I finished too soon. (save the joke there, you perv. I already made it in my head.)
Anyway, I wasn't supposed to be done reading book 30 of 2017 so quickly. But, I started this on the flight back from San Diego Friday and was done with the book by Saturday afternoon.
I couldn't stop. And, now, I'm sad it's over.
From appearances alone, this is probably not a book I would have chosen. It wasn't even on my radar until I heard an NPR podcast and two different bookstore owners listed it as a top book of the summer. What can I say, I do what bookstore owners on NPR tell me to do. Even when I started, I wasn't expecting much. I thought it would be a decent beach read, even though I was reading it on my way home from the beach. I didn't expect what this book delivered: an emotional onslaught, a tale of love won and lost and won and lost again, and a commentary on what we expect from sexy, powerful women - and, how we treat them when they give us what we think we want.
Evelyn Hugo is a former Hollywood star, now widowed and nearing the end of her life. She's ready to tell her life story now that everyone who played a part in it is dead and she gives the honor of writing what is sure to be a best seller to a magazine writer that nobody knows. There's a reason she chooses Monique Grant, which is alluded to and built towards throughout the novel. Within that larger context, Evelyn tells her story. From giving up her virginity to getting out of Hell's Kitchen to earning an Oscar. But, it's the story in between that left me captivated. The story of Evelyn's seven husbands and the question at the heart of it all.
Who is the true love of her life?
It would be easy, of course, to reduce Evelyn Hugo to a starlet who married to get ahead. As we meet each man in her life, we realize - it was almost never about love. But, it wasn't about the casting couch either. We learn that, while the world saw marriage after marriage to producers and leading men, Evelyn's true love was someone else entirely; it was someone she had to keep hidden from the world.
The obvious comparison is Elizabeth Taylor, right? But, even Liz couldn't have lived a story quite like this. Evelyn Hugo is a woman you ache to know - a starlet on screen, a beauty from birth, Hugo is the kind of woman other women want to be like and men want to be with. They describe her bosom like it's the 8th wonder of the world. She was very aware of the power she had, simply by flashing that smile and making men think they had a chance. And she feels the reality of what happens when she owns that sexuality and is judged for using it in return.
Evelyn tells her story without apology, even as we watch her destroy the people she loves. You find yourself frustrated with her choices, perhaps mostly because you know you might do the exact same in her position. And, you ache along with her for the resolution of that hidden, complicated love story that sustains her through it all.
This book asks what would you give up to live the life you've always dreamed of? Your past? Your future? Your dignity? The love of your life? And, it slaps you in the face that, in reality, we almost always realize the gravity of our choices after it's too late.
It's hard to explain why this book spoke to me enough that, two days later, I can't let it go. Even writing about it now, I feel like I'm not doing it justice. Hell, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to discussing the story even though I hate anything that resembles a book club. There are just some books that speak to you, for whatever reason. Maybe it's that deep, enduring love story. Maybe it's the strength and vulnerability of a woman who is in control of her sexuality and punished for it, too. Maybe we can all relate to what it will be like to someday own all of our choices and be comfortable enough in our own skin to share it with the world.