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

Delta of Venus: Erotica

A student of mine once advised me, “Never judge a book until you’ve read its cover.”

On cover of Delta of Venus, a woman in roaring '20s outfit exposes her gartered stocking tops while ignoring the camera That’s good advice when the book is Delta of Venus: Erotica by Anaïs Nin. If the cover hadn’t said the book was erotica, I might not have realized that what I was reading.

In her preface Nin says a collector of erotic literature offered Henry Miller $100 a month to write original stories for him.

When he was busy or bored with the work, Miller fobbed the job off on Nin who in turn recruited impecunious poets to produce erotica.

The collector complained. He wanted writers to, “Concentrate on sex. Leave out the poetry.” The result is the Delta of Venus: Erotica.

For the most part, the stories are about as erotic as a physiology textbook.

Even the woman on the dust jacket cover wearing a cloche and showing off her garters is interesting only because she’s so precariously perched on the arm of the chair.

Back of "Delta of Venus" is plain brown, no art or text.
Plain brown back.

The 15 stories—the longest is 64 pages—are not only short on poetry, they don’t have any characters resembling live people.

The characters are bland as mannequins.

There’s plenty of sex, but it’s about as appealing as the back cover of the dust jacket: plain brown.

Delta of Venus: Erotica by Anaïs Nin
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. 250 p.
1977 bestseller #9. My grade: D

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dreams Die First

Dreams Die First is another of Harold Robbins’ raunchy tales about sex to fit all tastes.

“Dreams Die First” cover features a woman's breasts, nipples tastefully concealed.
Cover art is most tasteful part of Dreams Die First.

The story is about Gareth Brendan, Vietnam vet, doing nothing rather unsuccessfully in California when his rich, powerful uncle offers him control of an underground newspaper.

Gareth had tried writing: No one would buy his stuff.

Now his unemployment has run out.

He takes the offer.

Gareth finds he has an aptitude for sleaze.

He goes from the newspaper, to a magazine called Macho which features the “supercunt of the month.”

From there he expands into “Lifestyle” publications and clubs not just for men interested in women.

He’s about to take his company public (I inadvertently typed pubic instead of public. I’ve been reading too much Robbins.) when the operation falls apart.

No worries.

There’s a happy ending.

Despite his reliance on drugs and alcohol, his violence, and his general stupidity, Gareth is a peach of a guy.

Women love him.

Men, including a prominent California clergyman, love him.

The only people who don’t love him are the FBI, the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department, Scotland Yard, and the Condor Group of the Mexican Police.

And me.

P.S. I’m not too fond of Harold Robbins either.

Dreams Die First by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster, ©1977. [paper] 408 p.
1977 bestseller #6. My grade: D-

“The Pretenders” begins with a death, then decays.

Author Gwen Davis
Author Davis looking dazzled.

Reviewers typically refer to The Pretenders as trash fiction and jump into a discussion of how another of Gwen Davis’s novels landed her in a libel suit some years later.

Davis herself described The Pretenders as “a dazzling novel of the beautiful people.”

I failed to be dazzled.

The dead man whose funeral is the social event that kicks of the novel is a rich, ruthless Hollywood producer. Mourners come to impress other mourners—no one had any respects to pay— and to see if there’s any way they can profit from Harry Bell’s death.

Davis’s “beautiful people” are losers with more money than brains and more ego than money.

The novel has a huge cast of characters playing unmemorable roles badly. There’s a lot of sex, little plot, and nothing that is either worth remembering or memorable.

The Pretenders is the only one of the nearly 70 years of bestsellers I read for this blog that I wasn’t able to finish. I gave up somewhere around page 200, and I refuse to try again.

John Ashley Nail read the entire book and has  intelligent  comments about it on Amazon.

The Pretenders by Gwen Davis
World Publishing, 1969. 512 p. My grade: D-

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni


Couples all look alike with their clothes on

dust jacket of John Updike's 1968 "Couples"
Couples’ jacket art reproduces William Blake watercolor  “Adam and Eve Sleeping”

John Updike’s 1968 bestseller,  Couples,  is about a clique of 10 couples, which is roughly five times as many as any self-respecting novel should have.

The couples live in a small New England village called Tarbox, somewhere within a longish commute of Boston.

The couples are the usual Kennedy presidency era suburbanites in the 1960s novels that pretend to be literature: hard-drinking, social climbing, sexually voracious.

Updike focuses main on local contractor Piet Hanema, who doesn’t let his devotion to his wife, Angela, interfere with his sex life.

When a new couple come to town, Piet takes up with the already pregnant wife, named Elizabeth but called Foxy, while still obliging other wives of the couples in their clique.

After Foxy has her baby, she’s less interested in her husband than before.

Within weeks, she’s pregnant again, this time with Piet’s child.

Other members of their clique arrange an abortion for Foxy, who promptly confesses all to her husband.

Updike writes delightful sentences, such as, “She studied him as if he were an acquisition that looks different in the home from in the store.”

But delightful sentences don’t make a novel, especially one with character-less characters all of whom look alike with their clothes on.

Couples by John Updike
Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. 458 p. My grade: C-.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Certain Smile superficial as lip gloss

Françoise Sagan published her first bestseller at 18, then repeated the feat at 20 with A Certain Smile.

The novel is presumed to show how young people view the world.

A Certain Smile by Françoise Sagan

Trans. by Anne Green. E.P. Dutton, 1956. 128 pp. My grade: C-.

cover of paaerback that includes Francoise Sagan's first two published novelsI suspect it was the youthfulness of the author rather than the brilliance of the novel that was the selling point.

As the story opens, Dominique is involved with a fellow Sorbonne student, Bertrand, who she finds boring outside of bed.

Bertrand introduces her to his uncle and aunt.

The aunt, a warm, motherly figure, becomes her friend.

The uncle, Luc, becomes her lover.

They spend two weeks together at a Cannes hotel, returning to Paris to find Luc’s wife has learned of their affair.

Dominique knows Luc does not love her, that he merely uses her, but that doesn’t stop her from loving him — or at least from wanting him as her primary sexual partner.

Dominique’s real passion is Dominique.

She wants the world to revolve around her, but she is so shallow the world alternately uses her and pities her.

Folks older and wiser than Dominque will make a wide detour around this novel.

If Sagan speaks for youth, the world’s in deep do-do.

 © 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Bonjour Tristesse. Bonjour boredom.

I finished reading Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse around 4 p.m. By 9 that evening, I couldn’t recall the plot.

And that was my second reading of this 95-page novel.

 Bonjour Tristesse: A Novel by Françoise Sagan

Initial publication by Éditions Rene Julliard, 1954. This edition:  Bonjour Tristesse  and A Certain Smile, Intro. by Rachel Cusk; Trans by Irene Ash.   Penguin Books Modern Classics, 2007. 95 pages.  1955 bestseller #4.  My grade C+.


cover of papaerback that includes Frncoise Sagan's first two published novelsSeventeen-year-old Cécile, her widowed father, and Elsa, his mistress of the moment, are vacationing at a Mediterranean villa.

Cécile “fears boredom and tranquility more than anything.”

Raymond invites Anne Larsen, a friend of his late wife, to visit, to share his bed, and to marry him.

Elsa leaves and takes up with another man.

Cécile is sure Anne would turn her and her father into “two civilized, well-behaved and happy people.” Rather than have that happen, Cécile has sex with the boy next door and then gets him and to pretend to be having an affair with Elsa.

That makes Raymond jealous; he tries to reclaim Elsa.

Anne thinks she’s been ousted.

She drives her car off a cliff.

Everyone lives happily ever after except Anne, who is dead.

Sagan was 18 when she published Bonjour Tristesse. The young woman had talent.

Even in translation the sentences are poetic.  But the characters are flat, the plot adolescent.

You’ve got better things to do in the next 90 minutes than read Bonjour Tristesse.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Critique of Education in The Plastic Age Is Just Silly Putty

Girl lures college man to find alcohol.“When an American sets out to found a college, he hunts first for a hill.”  Thus Percy Marks begins a novel that attempts unsuccessfully to be an indictment of American higher education in the jazz age. Marks writes:

The college is made up of men who worship mediocrity; that is their ideal except in athletics.

In a nutshell, the plot of The Plastic Age is this: A wholesome, American farm boy named Hugh Carver goes to a college founded so men might “find the true light of God and the glory of Jesus in the halls of this most liberal college.”

Hugh loses the faith he entered college with, finds nothing to replace it, and graduates without enough education to even decide on a career.

Hugh does, however, learn to drink, smoke, gamble, and swear.

The novelist seems to equate the educational system represented by Sanford College with Prohibition era drinking and casual approach to sex. That’s a questionable equation.

But however he defines the problem, in order to skewer the system that produced it Marks must make readers care about its victims.

Percy Marks isn’t writer enough do that.

The novel never gets any better than its opening line.

The Plastic Age
by Percy Marks
Grosset & Dunlap, 1924
1924 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg EBook #16532
My grade C+

Photo credit: The photo is from the screenplay of Marks’ novel.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Candy Isn’t Good for You or Anyone

Cover of Candy by Terry SouthernAccording to notes in the Book-of-the-Month Club’s edition of Candy, Terry Southern in his pitch to his novel’s eventual publisher  said, “Candy satirizes American culture.”

He might more accurately have written, “Candy satryizes American culture.”

BOMC says the novel is “a lusty romp” — I’ll accept it’s lusty — “centered around the impossibly sweet Candy Christian.”

Candy, a luscious university sophomore, is every parent’s definition of impossible, but she’s not sweet. She’s just dumb.“Good grief” is Candy’s favorite line, which shows her intellectual and emotional range.

Candy spends her days Thinking Deep Thoughts about How Best to Serve Mankind and  usually ends up merely servicing men.

She isn’t particularly choosy about the men.

Southern ran into problems finishing the story, so he called in Mason Hoffenberg to help. Together they managed to get the thing stopped, but the damage was already done.

The fact that my regional library system had culled all its copies of the 1964 bestseller is indicative of how little merit the novel had.

I rarely throw out a book, but Candy is going in the trash. It isn’t  worth the 99¢ I paid for it.

By Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
Book-of-the-Month Club edition, 1994
224 pages
1964 bestseller #2

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

City of Night is too dark for comfort

City of Night is a novel about the lonely lives of the segment of the gay community that don’t make headlines for filing for same-sex marriage licenses.

In this novel as dark as its title, John Rechy brought the world of gay, purchased sex into mainstream literature much as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita did with pedophilia.

Sexually abused by his father, the unnamed narrator withdraws into books and movies. A loner, he goes from high school to the army, and from there to New York “looking for… perhaps some substitute for salvation.”

In one city after another, he hurls himself into the homosexual scene, wanting to be desired without having to reciprocate. He begins by using sex as a way to make money, but eventually admits he’s counting his conquests.

The narrator gets drawn into increasingly kinky situations which first repel, then attract him.

Finally offered a long-term gay relationship, the narrator turns it down. He would rather be miserably lonely than have a relationship in which he had to consider anyone other than himself.

Rechy is too good a writer for this story. He does such a good job showing the futility and waste of the pay-for-sex scene that readers are likely to lay down this novel for one that offers even a firefly-sized glimmer of hope.

City of Night
By John Rechy
Grove Press, 1963
Paperback edition, 308 pages
1963 bestseller #7
My grade C+
© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni