One of the first things I wanted to do when I got home from college was read something again. I looked at the popular Instagram books; and, because I enjoyed The Love Hypothesis, I decided to listen to the audible audiobook of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This book was written by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Three different people read this one: Alma Cuervo, Robin Miles, and Julia Whelan. I haven’t listened to an audiobook in full in a while, but I enjoyed listening to the narrators. Evelyn’s voice was strong. It fit her personality well. We also get the voice of the reporters who do stories on Evelyn.
So, what is this story even about? I would call it a fictional biography. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo tells the story of a life, and her life no means a simple one.
I’m going to be honest with you, when I picked this book up, I expected pure escapism. I expected to hear the tales of a wealthy, glamorous, larger-than-life actress. I imagined I’d enter a world like Gossip Girl. The picture in my head wasn’t entirely inaccurate, but it was also reductive. It was unexpectedly sad, though I wouldn’t say it was tragic. Well, it is a little tragic.
Note: I didn’t any research before reading, and I found out later that Reid is cishet and white (like myself). Some of the criticism online makes sense when you realize she’s writing outside her experience. I can’t say whether she portrayed a bisexual Cuban woman accurately, but Reid appears to have done some research.
We begin with Monique Grant, a reporter for Vivant magazine, who is selected to write a cover story on actress Evelyn Hugo. It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime. Evelyn refuses to give an interview to almost anyone, and for some reason, she wants Monique to listen to her life story.
Monique has a story of her own. She is a thirty-five-year old reporter who has been working for Vivant, a drama magazine for quite some time. She is always writing fluff pieces and rarely gets to write anything real. I am starting out in my career, but I understand Monique. I’d like to be a writer, but I’m not sure what I want to write yet. I’d like to write something meaningful outside of this blog, but I’m not sure what yet. Monique wrote a piece about assisted suicide that she felt passionate about, but otherwise, her job just hasn’t given her the opportunity. Journalism sounds exciting, finding a story and telling it, but not all stories are going to interest you.
Celebrity gossip is something that would bore me, and I’d imagine years in the field would grow tiring. It is all so. . . fake. But I do find myself reading articles about famous people. But I have to remind myself that even if I read every article and make the right google searches, I still won’t know everything. I cannot figure out everything about a celebrity’s life.
We won’t ever find out know the intimate details of their relationships or their deepest imperfections. Even if they go on trial or host podcasts about their personal lives, we aren’t actually there. The audience feels like they are a part of their lives. They call it a parasocial relationship I believe. I am certainly guilty of feeling like I know a youtuber or famous person.
Monique falls into this a bit, she decides to watch all of Evelyn Hugo’s movies, and she falls a bit in love with her. After reading this book, I am not sure I’m in love with Evelyn, but she certainly fascinates me.
We learn soon that Evelyn wants Monique to publish a whole book about her after Evelyn dies. That’s quite the task.
I like how Reid doesn’t just push Monique to the background. She pushes against Evelyn at times, and she is inspired by her. Monique is half-black and half-white. We learn that her father died when she was a young. Her husband, David, recently moved out of her home. She keeps ignoring his calls. Talking to Hugo makes her bolder, stronger. She makes her realize that she has to fight for what she wants.
They share similarities, the two of them. Evelyn was born Evelyn Elena Herrera. She is Cuban, but she has changed her name to get parts. She dyed her hair blonde.
I was surprised, and saddened to learn that Evelyn’s first marriage was out of desperation rather than love. She was a teenager. The men she interacts with early on are pedophiles. There is no other way to say it. There was one scene where a boy at a grocery shop grooms her and gives her candy for time with him. She is convinced as a child that she should use her body to move ahead in her career and get what she wants. These scenes aren’t explicit, but they’re pretty awful to hear about. Her father also abused her as well. Those are parts of her life that she doesn’t talk about as much. She doesn’t really deal with them or have an opportunity to heal.
She ends up in an abusive second marriage with her husband, Don, as well. Don was different at first. She married him when she was 19, she loved him and he liked for who she was or at least what she was trying to be. She views sex as a transaction until she meets Don. Then it is making love. They started dating for publicity and he was the one guy she liked.
He started hitting her after the marriage. His family was famous and he wanted to be successful like them. He kind of reminds me of toxic masculinity. The writer, Reid, is a feminist, so I imagine she wrote this way on purpose. He struggled to play the tough guy and action heroes early in his career and faced criticism. So, he decided to be super tough at home. He wanted Evelyn to settle down and have children and hurt her when she said no.
I found Don to be a disappointment, and after he leaves, we dive into the pop culture world. Evelyn is always meeting celebrities to grow her image. She gets a role in Father and Daughter.
The world of celebrities is just like you’d expect. Their lives are glamorous and luxurious and fake and petty. The relationships between these people were so petty that I felt sad. Women are expected to compete with each other for roles. She goes out to meals with other women, but they do not become close. Her relationship with Ruby was a difficult one. They were so fake to each other, but they also understood each other. I wish that they’d have become good friends.
She does make one true friend, her producer at Sunset Studios, a man named Harry who says that she is “too young” and “not his type,” and Evelyn and Harry both know that means he is gay.
Celia St. James
Evelyn meets someone new after this. She finally gets to play Jo in Little Women, and she is thrilled. But she is intimidated by her co-star, Celia St. James, who plays Beth. She worries Celia will steal the show from her. They end up getting milkshakes together. Evelyn knows the game. When someone wants to meet her in a public place, they want to take photos of them together. She has no problem using people.
I liked Celia immediately. She always plays the good girl role in movies, like Beth in Little Women. She acts naïve at first, but she is way smarter than she lets on.
Celia is an idealist. She played Beth in Little Women and won an Oscar. Method actress- she became her character. She admires Evelyn’s way of rising to the top and wants to learn from her. She admires how Evelyn manipulates the system to rise to the top. She admires how she is cunning and quick. Celia is pretty quick herself. If I were to place these two in Hogwarts Houses, Evelyn would be a Slytherin. She even sports the green dress. Celia is a Gryffindor. She is an idealist. She hopes for a better, more accepting world. She has deep principles. She generally wants to get to know Evelyn.
Evelyn and Celia fall in love. It turns out that she was the love of Evelyn’s life. We actually learn this pretty early in the story. Their love story is genuine and real, sensual and beautiful. I enjoyed the scenes where they are just talking, getting to know each other. Evelyn opens up to another person like she hasn’t before. Their masks fall with each other. Their romance begins in the 1960s, and almost no one in the industry is “out.”
They disagree on what to do, on how to be together. Evelyn tries more marriages, most of them to hide her relationship with Celia. Their relationships is rocky and difficult.
We learn that Evelyn is bisexual. Celia is a lesbian.
“I’m bisexual. Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box.”
Monique mistakenly thinks that Evelyn is only attracted to women, but Evelyn calls her out. She falls in love with Don Adler and experiences attraction to men. The book touches on gay rights issues. During the Stonewall riots, they are unable to protest because doing so would distract people from the real issues. They all donate to help during the AIDS crisis, and Evelyn donates to LGBTQ+ causes her entire life.
I loved how Evelyn maintains that Celia is the love of her life. They have a soulmate energy. At one point in the book, she marries Harry, her producer, and she marries a man named John. John and Harry are in love and Celia and Evelyn are in love. They are each other’s bards. But they all develop into a family who deeply care about each other. The world that Evelyn lives in feels so fake. There are no scenes of acting, and Evelyn says that she really became an actress to prove herself. Celia is a good actress. She is a method actor, she becomes her character and seems to like the art of acting more than Evelyn.
I feel like Evelyn spent so much time trying to make it in the world that she didn’t really get to know others or herself as much as she could have. For instance, she feels out of touch with her Cuban identity. She stops speaking Spanish and dyes her hair. She does become close to a Cuban maid named Louisa, and they form a years-long bond.
Evelyn is confident in her abilities, but she still ties much of her talent to her looks and struggles a bit to see herself as a good actress.
“What good did I have other than to be beautiful.”
My favorite scenes are probably the ones between Evelyn, Celia, Harry, and John. It is the one time when she is part of a family. They are an unconventional family, and there is something beautiful about it. Harry and Evelyn end up having a baby together because they both want a child.
I wasn’t expecting a child in this story, but it works. Their daughter, Connor, is a great addition. Their relationship is entirely platonic, and it is beautiful. I loved the scenes of them together raising Connor and taking her to the park. Harry went through so much.
“But if you have to go, then go. Go if it hurts. Go if it’s time. Just go knowing you were loved, that I will never forget you, that you will live in everything Connor and I do. Go knowing I love you purely, Harry, that you were an amazing father. Go knowing I told you all my secrets. Because you were my best friend.”
You already know how many husbands she will have, so it is a bit tiring waiting until the last one comes.
I feel like the ending was a little rushed. There aren’t many scenes with her and Connor, and her daughter goes from a wild teenager to a Stanford graduate pretty quickly. I get that Blair Waldorf characters exist in real life, but it seemed like all it took was a single conversation, dinner promise, and decent father figure to set things right. I appreciate the beauty of motherhood and every scene they had together, but that plot felt incredibly rushed. I get that Evelyn would want to make her daughter look good for the story, but her plot (and her daughter dying) felt a bit cliché.
I honestly was fascinated by the idea of Evelyn’s biography. The story focused one on moments in time that Evelyn remembered and less on the everyday trials of an actress. I wish we’d seen more acting scenes, but I liked the format a lot. I liked seeing Monique’s reactions to Evelyn. I liked her subplot with David. I’m not sure about her subplot with her father though. I feel like this story didn’t need another twist.
But Evelyn was a good character. She was witty and honest; immoral and a rare example of morality in Hollywood; and she wasn’t good or necessarily bad. I found myself sympathizing with her, even after the plot twist. I liked almost all of the characters, and I disliked the men I wasn’t supposed to like. I do think she could have been written better, all the characters could have been. My biggest problem is the lack of nuance and the author’s refusal to leave the reader with any lasting questions. A reviewer on Goodreads said it better than me. On June 14th, 2020, a book reviewer and blog youtuber named Chan commented:
“she doesn’t want the reader to form their own opinions, she’s rather just hold your hand to the “point.”
I didn’t finish this book with many questions. I finished it in awe. I was captivated the entire time that I was reading. I didn’t want to stop until I knew how Evelyn’s story ended. But when I finished, I didn’t have any meaningful questions. My only one was maybe, what happens to Monique?
“she doesn’t want the reader to form their own opinions, she’s rather just hold your hand to the “point.”
I feel like some of the romantic lines were a bit dramatic, and so were Evelyn’s pieces of advice. I might have had a different experience if I read the book instead of listened to it. I didn’t remember any of the specific lines very well, but I still feel like it was good.
There was one thing I did find rather profound. Evelyn notes how she always went after what she wanted; she chased after happiness and grabbed it. Meanwhile, other people seemed to fall into happiness in life. She wonders which is better. I feel like my life has been a mix of both. I have ended up in situations and places that I didn’t choose. I was fortunate enough to know the right people at the right time. But I also go after what I want when I see it. I’m also pretty passive sometimes. I want something, but I hesitate, like Evelyn warns against. I feel like it depends on the circumstance, but I do feel like Evelyn spent so much of her life (after becoming rich and famous) trying to prove herself. In a way, it was worth it for her. She didn’t get a perfect happy ending, but she ended up with the love of her life and many joys.
I do admire how Reid takes a stance with her writing. The sexism and terrible men are called out and Evelyn wouldn’t need seven husbands if she could marry the woman she loves instead. Meanwhile, Hollywood seems to excuse anything other than being LGBTQ+. Adultery, swinging, abuse, and pretty much anything else is accepted, used for clicks, and brushed under the rug. She isn’t afraid to call out the Reagan administration and show how hard it was for LGBTQ+ people during that time. Evelyn herself reflects on what it is like to feel like a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and how she feels connected even though she is closeted and does not attend the protests.
Another thing I want to mention. Celia’s code. Celia is a sort of moral center for Evelyn, even though Evelyn fails to meet that code several times. Celia wants Evelyn to be honest with her, to remain loyal to her, and she just wants to be with the woman she loves. Evelyn’s Vegas marriage, for instance, hurt Celia. It makes you want the world to be like Celia sees it. All of Hollywood just feels so fake. It makes me never want to be famous. I wouldn’t trade lives with Evelyn Hugo for anything.
Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Let me know what you think down in the comments below!