Arts & Review Editor
When I first heard of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and learned that the book would follow the life of a glamorous fifties movie star, I was hesitant. My expectations were that it would follow a common stereotype of women with many husbands — that they all died a mysterious, tragic death, the cause “unknown.” To be honest, I thought it was a cliche. The reality of it, however, is far more tragic and bittersweet than I had initially expected it to be, and it has nothing to do with Evelyn Hugo’s seven husbands so much as it has to do with the tale of her and her greatest love.
The book starts off with Monique Grant, a biracial journalist for a magazine called the Vivant and is currently undergoing a divorce when an exclusive interview with iconic and reclusive Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo- a woman with seemingly more scandals than movies- is dropped into her lap. Though soon enough, Monique learns that rather than an exclusive with Evelyn, she’s offered the chance to write her biography
As Monique follows along to the true story of Evelyn’s life and career- filled with ruthlessness, pure friendships, and the most true, yet forbidden, form of love, she also finds herself grappling with her own personal struggles head on, as well as secrets from the past that leave her reeling.
Though it seems like Monique is the main character of this book, the true protagonist is, indeed, Evelyn Hugo, though it would be fair to say that Monique is the narrator.
It is with the utmost discretion that I say this is no simple story about a simple person, but a complex, intricate tale of a woman dealing with multiple personas. One is the sultry, alluring, tantalizing image of being an A-list movie star. The other is the loving, flawed, and true girl behind closed doors, and her desire to freely love the person she has for years. Oftentimes, these images clash and collide, causing Evelyn to make hasty and even hypocritical decisions, ones that ultimately lead to painful, regretful outcomes. This story is about a woman filled with ambition to make it out, to create something, anything, of herself and to hold the authority of her life in her own hands, molding a place for herself in American households throughout the ages. This is a story about a woman refusing to be shamed for the perception men have of her- that she is a slag for owning up and taking advantage of her sexual image, that she is merely a pretty face on a pretty body who wore emerald green dresses and turned the other way when needed to. This is a story about a woman who was able to get her way with whatever lies she spun and wove because ultimately, society fell in love with the fantasy that was Evelyn Hugo, and not with the actuality of her.
The book delves into numerous, prevalent issues in today’s norm. From the casual, sexual harassment of young girls in the film industry to the lack of work and roles for POC actors to domestic abuse in marriage to the stigmas of divorced women to even the blantant homophobia and oversexualization of queer women. It also is a smashing critic of the patriarchy, with a protagonist that is, in fact, much too opinionated, talented, and bold for any man to “tame” her, and does so in the most womanly, feminine way possible. Evelyn destroys whatever expectations people set for her by essentially stating that it’s better to have no expectations at all. Rather than water down her personality and make herself more soft, approachable, and digestible to fans, Evelyn is sharp and brazen, bringing truth to her sixties bombshell title.
What I absolutely adore about this book is how well intersectionality is obviously displayed, yet not explicitly stated in the book. Evelyn is a queer, Cuban, woman of color trying to be an actress in the fifties. The possibilities are low, and her identity proves to be a barrier. Being a woman during those times means that she must also become a mother, and so she risks losing her sexual appeal the minute she has a child. Though she finally was able to become an actress at the end, it also came with the cost of abandoning her Cuban identity, changing her accent, and dying her hair blonde- basically, making herself appear as far from ethnically Cuban as possible.
Finally, I just want to point out that The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not a glorification of her wild past and racy personality, but a direct, honest way to be held accountable for her mistakes and flaws. It is asking its readers to hear her story with humanity rather than logic, because no matter how flashy a celebrity’s life might be, everyone has those rotten, ugly despicable days where they say stuff they don’t mean and act beyond reason. To be put on a pedestal is begging for disappointment, since no human being is perfect.
Overall, this is a book I’d highly recommend to just about anyone. I believe it truly encompasses human nature through and through, and after I had finished reading it, my world seemed to shift, as though the way I had been living on before was off-kilter. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is impactful and reflective, leaving you reeling with thoughts you might’ve never dreamt of thinking about before.