Hollywood Wives

A woman's ring is the only pictorial element on the cover of Hollywood Wives
That’s a woman’s ring over the Ls in Hollywood.

The women whose husbands rule 1980s Hollywood are the subject of Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives.

Some of the wives are powers behind their men’s thrones; other are just mindless bodies. Instead of being real people, the wives are graphic novel memes.

A newly-wed couple enter this sexually charged atmosphere. Buddy believes the myth of instant Hollywood fame and fortune. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to be a star.

Angel knows little of movies or stardom. She just wants to make a home with Buddy and their baby.

Wives comes very close to being an all-sex novel on the model of the worst of Harold Robbins and Judith Krantz.

We really didn’t need another novel proving other people’s sex lives are more exciting than our own.

Hollywood Wives is saved—barely—by a secondary story that’s more interesting than the wives.

A young man is driving across the country murdering women as he goes. The victims are mainly addicts and hookers whose disappearances cause scarcely a ripple.

The killer is being trailed by a cop obsessed with finding and stopping him—and with figuring out what set off his murder spree.

Collins finally ties the killer to the wives, but the damage is already done.

Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins
Simon and Schuster. 1983. 510 p.
1983 bestseller #9. My grade: D

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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Changes by Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel’s novel Changes isn’t a great work of literature but it’s a story about topics that are always timely for women: second marriages, blended families, gender roles, and why men are such jerks.

Dust jacket's feminine blue background and script type suggest Changes has a female perspective.
Circle holds yin and yang symbols

The novel is the story of Melanie Adams, a woman who married a guy who didn’t want children and quickly found herself divorced and the mother of twin daughters.

Mel went to work to support her family. By dint of hard work, she rose from receptionist for a television network to a New York City news anchor before she was 40.

When she’s assigned to do a feature about heart transplants, Mel meets a widowed California heart surgeon with three children. Peter Hallam takes his job as personally as Mel takes hers.

Their recognition of each other as professionals who care deeply about their work is one part of the instant attraction between them; the other part is sex appeal.

There is a whirlwind, long distance romance that very nearly ends when they marry.

Aspects of the story have too much daytime television soap opera about them, but overall Steel does a reasonably evenhanded job of showing the strains faced by working couples trying to maintain careers and blend their families.

Changes by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1983. 348 p.
1983 bestseller #6. My grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

North and South

images of steel mill and West Point cadet separated by words NORTH AND SOUTH from image of South Carolina plantation
the people are all 1-dimensional

Take all the novels you’ve ever read about America’s Civil War, put them in your Magic Bullet, push the on button, and you’d have John Jakes’s novel North and South.

The novel contrasts two families whose ancestors came to America in the 1600s.

The Mains were aristocratic French Protestants who settled in South Carolina.

The first Hazard in America was a working class English teen who had murdered his stepfather. That lad went to work in the Pennsylvania iron industry.

In 1842 Orry Main and Charles Hazard meet as plebes at the Military Academy at West Point. They become life-long friends despite their different temperaments and backgrounds.

Jakes follows the two men and their families up through Lincoln’s election and the South’s secession.

The dust jacket notes say the novel is “filled with memorable characters, many of them captured from the pages of history.”

Actually, all the memorable characters are from history.

Jakes gives his fictional characters labels and then moves them around like paper dolls.

It’s interesting that Congressman Daniel Boone proposed a bill to close the Military Academy, which was regarded contemptuously in both North and South, but historical trivia is insufficient compensation for characters who are stereotypes.

North and South by John Jakes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1st ed. ©1982. 740 p.
1982 bestseller #8. My grade: C

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Valley of Horses

Cover of “The Valley of Horses” shows Ayla, sling in hand, looking at horses
Ayla’s a whiz with her slingshot

For most of its length, Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses* is two stories about prehistoric Europe.

In the first story,  a young woman who has been turned out of her adoptive home finds an unoccupied cave in a remote valley.

Ayla is tall, blonde, and beautiful, a skilled hunter, healer, and toolmaker.

She tames a wild colt and a great lion cub, but she’d rather have a human mate.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away, two human brothers are setting out to explore.

Their journey takes them to a riverside village where Thonolan meets and loses the love of his life.

Despondent, Thonolan packs to leave. Jondalar, fearing for his brother’s mental state, accompanies him, though he’d rather go back home.

After losing their boat and belongings, the brothers end up in the mountains where Thonolan is killed by Ayla’s lion and Jondalar—Did I mention he’s a gorgeous hunk?— is rescued by Ayla.

Valley is full of fascinating, esoteric information about prehistoric life, but Auel’s depictions of primitive men’s use of language is ludicrous. In one paragraph, strangers are bewildered by each other’s grunts; five sentences later they’re discussing fluid dynamics like engineers in a graduate seminar.

I’ve heard more plausible prehistoric male communication up the street at Bob’s Diner.

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Crown. ©1982. 502 p.
1982 bestseller #6. My grade: C

*The Valley of Horses is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children™ series (The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first) and the only one of the series to make the 20th century’s bestsellers list.

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Mistral’s Daughter

The dust jacket of Mistral’s daughter features a red carnation on a bright pink background
A red carnation is Maggy’s signature

Judith Krantz gave the public what it wanted in 1982 with Mistral’s Daughter, which was promptly made into a TV miniseries for which the story is ideally suited.

The story begins when Maggy Lunel, illegitimate and orphaned, arrives in 1920’s Paris to make her fortune as an artist’s model.

Maggy Lunel becomes Julien Mistral’s model and mistress, the subject of his first successful paintings, then loses him after his first successful show.

Maggy becomes the mistress of an American who dies suddenly leaving their daughter, Teddy, for her to raise.

She goes to work, eventually opening a modeling agency.

On a photo shoot in France for Maggy’s agency, Teddy meets and falls for Mistral  and bears him daughter, Fauve.

When Teddy is accidentally killed, Mistral gives Fauve to Maggy to raise.

When Fauve is a teenager, Mistral invites her to spend summers in Provence.

Maggy can find no reason to refuse without telling Fauve about her own sexual relationship with Mistral.

Although it’s a page-turner, Mistral’s Daughter wouldn’t suffer if it had fewer pages.

The novel’s happy ending suggests all the wrong done by an artist is automatically cancelled by his art.

The popularity of that ethical assertion doesn’t make it true.

Mistral’s Daughter by Judith Krantz
Crown Publishers ©1982. 531 p.
1982 bestseller #5. My grade:

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Establishment: Hurtling through history

The Establishment is the last novel in Howard Fast’s trilogy about the family of Dan Lavette, the son of an immigrant fisherman who made and lost two fortunes.

Front dust jacket of The Establishment is a collage of scenes from the novel
An unfocused collage fits the novel

Here, as in Second Generation, Fast focuses on Dan’s daughter Barbara who married a Jewish soldier of fortune.

Barbara’s writing produces a good income without her touching her inheritance.

Bernie operates a garage. He works very hard, barely turns a profit, and is bored.

Bernie jumps at the chance to fly planes to Israel to prepare the new nation for a forthcoming war against Arab countries with established armies.

He’s killed in Israel.

Reporting Barbara did from Nazi Germany brings her to the attention of the McCarthy hearings.

She’s sentenced to six months in a federal prison for women.

Meanwhile, Barbara’s brother Tom is becoming a power broker, part of the wealthy establishment men who select the people whom Americans will elect by popular vote to run the country.

Fast’s novels cry out for video treatment: The main characters are merely sketched, there are swift scene changes, and the historical context has been lost in the intervening 40 years.

Masterpiece could make Fast’s novels come alive.

Fast merely makes them hurtle through history.

The Establishment by Howard Fast
Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 337 p.
1979 bestseller #08 My grade: B

©2018 Linda G. Aragoni

Evergreen but forgetable

Evergreen follows Anna Friedman, a beautiful, red-headed Polish Jew, who comes to America alone as a teenager in the early 1900s.

Cover illustration for Evergreen shows Anna and a mansion in the center and two men on other side of them.
Symbolically, elements on Evergreen‘s cover don’t touch.

Anna works in a factory, learns English, reads and studies until she’s able to get work as a maid in a home of an upper crust banking family. There she falls for the son, Paul Werner.

Anna marries another poor immigrant, Joseph Friedman, who has little use for formal education but a great capacity for learning. He sees a fortune to be made in building.

When times get rough, Joseph sends Anna to appeal to the Werners for a loan. Anna gets the loan and a child by Paul.

The rest of the novel follows Anna and the next three generations of her family up to the 1970s.

Evergreen feels more like linked short stories than a novel. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. Bella Plain was a popular short story writer before Evergreen, her first novel.

Plain’s characters are complex enough for a short story, but not for a novel. She doesn’t show characters growing; she only shows they have changed.

History, too, is relegated to scene changes. Even the holocaust in Evergreen appears antiseptic.

Evergreen is decent entertainment, free of lurid detail, but totally forgettable.

Evergreen by Bella Plain
Delacorte Press, c1978. 593 p.
1978 bestseller #6. My grade: B-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni