I stumbled across Valley of the Dolls whilst researching for an essay I was writing; about drugs in literature. The blurb reminded me of the character of Sarah Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream, who takes special ‘dietary’ pills in order to lose weight for a television show that she convinces herself she will be a part of. Similar to Hubert Selby Jr’s, 1978 novel, Valley of the Dolls explore the effects of societal pressure and the upper and downers that are prescribed with it; A.K.A, the ‘dolls’.
Set in the 1950s, Jaqueline Susan depicts the intertwined lives of three ‘glamour’ girls; Anne, Neely and Jenifer. This novel, though seemingly following the appeal of a low-brow drama, does in fact raise twentieth-century concerns over the obsession of beauty, the destruction of fame and of course, the psychological effects of prescription pills that were so popular during the ’60s. As shown in Requiem for a Dream ‘speed’ was introduced to those looking to lose weight, and barbiturates were given to those not achieving their eight hours sleep each night. It was perhaps a way to pacify those not happy with the overly-boring life of the suburbs, or the newly stressful life of the working, city-girl.
Jaqueline Susan herself experienced the ups and downs of the television industry; a world that was far more demanding and destructive than the stage which is mirrored in Neely within the novels. After making her break doing a musical, her slow decent into diet pills and sleeping tablets is due to the pressures put on her by her producers and she ends up in the ‘funny farm’- perhaps a fitting name for the way mental patience were viewed in the 1960s.
I find it sad how Susan portrays the Top Dogs in the industry as mostly selfish; there is nothing they won’t do to climb to the top; even Anne, who arrives to New York from England as a reserved virgin stoops to the lowest points in order to keep her cheating boyfriend, Lyon.
I can’t vouch for how representational it is to the real 60s glamor life but I think the issues regarding vanity and self-obsession are very much prevalent in today’s society and if anything; its an easy read and the narrative follows events that wouldn’t be far off from the gossip columns.