Long before celebrity gossip became what it is today, actress-turned-auteur Jacqueline Susann told the story of three bombshells’ ascent to fame and subsequent descent into self-destruction. Like a post-WWII, pre-cable combination of Sex and the City and VH1’s Behind the Music, the best-selling novel Valley of the Dolls can either be seen as a cautionary tale or as a precursor to chick lit. Despite containing an amusing catalogue of already popped culture, the 1966 tome seems written for today.
My first friend in Las Vegas lent me the book in September (exactly 63 years after the start of the narrative). I read it that weekend, right after I had shed the skin of an Arizona State grad student for what I thought would be a temporary respite in Las Vegas.
Being new in town, I had the luxury to sit and read all day because I hadn’t yet found any work or friends. (Even my book lender was somebody I knew from college who had also emigrated here.)
Not unlike the three ingénues—Anne, Neely and Jennifer—all I had in September was hope and a great view of the Vegas skyline. As I sat at the base of a Las Vegas peak, I read about three girls who climbed their own mountains only to find a Valley of empty dreams fulfilled at the summit.
On the surface, a year in my life has little in common with the characters in Valley of the Dolls. I don’t take “dolls” (the girls’ eponymous pet name for a variety of pills), or any other drug, for that matter. I was born about 40 years after the first scenes in the book. And most importantly, I have no acting or singing talent.
Yet, the story of female ambition was striking, and seemed to mirror my own life. I’ve long dreamed of finding fame and fortune as a writer. Meaningful romantic relationships—among other luxuries—have fallen by the wayside en route. They are dropped like sandbags, growing too heavy to carry as I follow the path forged by Susann and her three thinly fictionalized, troubled stars.
Resembling fractal geometry, where the same pattern repeats on every scale, three women’s lifetimes passed in the length of my one weekend. Similarly, that weekend represents my year: Having just abandoned one life and yet to claim a new one, I stood at the base camp of Susann’s Mount Everest, with only the weekend to mark the difference between the two.
A few months after I had returned the book to its shelf, the movie adaptation ran on cable. Watching the film, I was able to see how much I had already changed since my arrival in Las Vegas. Base camp looked small in the distance below me, and yet there was much more above.
Now even that was a month ago.
Here I am today, standing at the base of a new mountain, the year 2009, eager to continue climbing, ignoring the threat of what I might find at the top. Wish me luck.