Do you know that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night, and you are in the middle of a great dream? You are married to Rafa Nadal, or you are an astronaut, or you are in the middle of your Academy Awards speech? And for a panicked thirty seconds, you grasp at the dream, like simply by grasping you can hold on to it, grab enough of the rapidly-fading memory threads that you can stay there for just another few minutes? And how gutting it is as you watch the threads vanish, like ripples in a pond?
That is how I felt at the end of this book.
I have alluded in several blog posts over the past three weeks to the fact that I am not up to the challenge of writing this review. I don’t have the skills, or the words, to explain how much I loved this book. To explain how real these people were to me, and how I mourn them. How much I…how much I miss them. That they were never real except in my head somehow makes that worse. That none of them ever were is…it’s nonsense.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
The book is a love story, or rather a collection of love stories. Evelyn claims to have had one great love, but she also has a collection of lesser, if no less true, loves. There are great friendships. There is a lingering mystery, the thread of which winds through the entire book, to a reveal that I did not see coming. There is a glimpse behind Old Hollywood’s curtain, a glimpse that is not really at all flattering. There are tough subjects tackled. Homophobia. Euthanasia. Homicide. There are betrayals on top of betrayals on top of betrayals. And, in the end, there is forgiveness. So much forgiveness. So much grace.
I want to tell you details. I want to tell you why Harry Cameron is the best person I know, even though he is one of the most flawed, even though he made catastrophic mistakes, even though he paid dearly for them. I want to tell you about him, but he’s not real, and I don’t know him at all, and again, that makes no sense.
This is the third book I’ve read by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and the book hangover after all of them has been extreme. She is a gifted storyteller, but more than that she has the ability to create characters that jump off the page, jump into your life. Harry Cameron and Evelyn Hugo join Daisy Jones, Owen Meany and Prior Philip in my very short list of characters I never quite got over.
And now, I feel like I have let you down, because this is less of a review and more of me, you know, speaking in tongues about this remarkable book.
In fairness, I did warn you. And I probably should have waited another three weeks before I attempted this. But, honestly, I’m not sure that it would have helped. I am afraid that I will be this inarticulately awed by this book forever.
Books like this…they are why I read.