I was first introduced to author Taylor Jenkins Reid when a friend loaned me her copy of Daisy Jones & The Six. I read it on vacation in the Bahamas and couldn't put it down.
In the summer of 2021, Jenkins Reid released a new novel, Malibu Rising, which I devoured on Nantasket Beach in Hull.
Several fellow bookworms told me I should go back to Jenkins Reid's earlier work and try The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. During my most recent trip to Porter Square Books in Cambridge, I picked up a paperback copy.
The story centers around two women, Evelyn Hugo and Monique Grant. Evelyn is a celebrated actress in her sixties and Monique is a young reporter who Hugo taps to write her biography. Each day, Monique arrives to Evelyn's luxurious home in New York City to listen to tales from every chapter of her life, marked by her seven marriages.
On page 13, Monique's internal monologue is, "I've spent the past few days researching everything I can about Evelyn Hugo. I was never a big film buff, let alone in interested in any old Hollywood stars. But Evelyn's life - at least the version on record as of now - is enough for ten soaps. There's the early marriage that ended in divorce when she was eighteen. Then the studio-setup courtship and tumultuous marriage to Hollywood royalty Don Alder. The rumors that she left him because he beat her. Her comeback in a French New Wave film. The quickie Vegas elopement with singer Mick Riva. Her glamorous marriage to the dapper Rex North, which ended in both of them having affairs. The beautiful love story of her life with Harry Cameron and the birth of their daughter, Connor. Their heartbreaking divorce and her very quick marriage to old director Max Girard. Her supposed affair with the much younger Congressman Jack Easton, which ended her relationship with Girard. And finally, her marriage to financier Robert Jamison, rumored to have at least been inspired by Evelyn's desire to spite former costar - and Robert's sister - Celia St. James. All of her husbands have passed away, leaving Evelyn as the only one with the insight into those relationships. Suffice it to say, I have my work cut out for me if I want to get her to talk about any of it."
The book is divided into seven sections, one for each of her husbands. The narrative switches between Monique asking questions in the present day and Evelyn sharing what happened in the past.
If you read Malibu Rising, you will notice Evelyn was married to Mick Riva, the father from that book. Seven Husbands was written first, so I wonder if Jenkins Reid always knew she would write a book, in the future, about the Riva family?
There's a passage from the Mick Riva chapter that I absolutely loved. Evelyn is talking about how she hatched the plan to get Mick to marry her. On page 174, "The first thing you need to do to get a man to elope with you is to challenge him to go to Las Vegas. You do this by being out at an L.A. club and having a few drinks together. You ignore the impulse to roll your eyes at how eager he is to have his picture taken with you. You recognize that everyone is playing everyone else. It's only fair that he's playing you at the same time as you're playing him. You reconcile these facts by realizing that what you both want from each other is complementary. You want a scandal. He wants the world to know he screwed you. The two things are one and the same. You consider laying it out for him, explaining what you want, explaining what you're willing to give him. But you've been famous long enough to know that you never tell anyone anything more than you have to. So instead of saying, I'd like us to make tomorrow's papers, you say, Mick, have you ever been to Las Vegas?"
This is a recurring theme throughout the entire story. Evelyn's biggest concern is her public image and protecting what is sacred to her privately.
Many of her marriages were PR stunts or a means to being considered for a role. However, when she was reunited with a director from early in her career, Max Girard, she was hopeful their chemistry all these years later was real.
Unfortunately, his affection for Evelyn was more adoration than sincere love. On page 298, Evelyn reflects, "I'd only married a man I loved once before. This was only the second time in my life I had gone into a marriage believing it could last. And after all, I hadn't left Don. Don had left me. With Max, I thought that something might change, something might click, something might make him see me as I truly was and love me for it. I thought maybe I could love the real him enough that he's start to loving the real me. I thought I could finally have a meaningful marriage with someone. But that never happened. Instead, Max paraded me around town like the trophy I was. Everyone wanted Evelyn Hugo, and Evelyn Hugo wanted him. That girl in Boute-en-Train mesmerized everybody. Even the man who created her. And I didn't know how to tell him that I loved her , too. But I wasn't her."
I don't want to spoil any of the big reveals, but let's just say, Evelyn's true partner turns out to be someone who isn't even on this list. There's also a surprising connection between Evelyn and Monique that comes to light in the final 30 pages.
I loved this book. I found myself choosing to read it instead of watching TV (the hightest compliment!). As I was reading, I couldn't help but wish the TV gods would turn this into a series. I could easily see one episode for each of the husbands.
I kept trying to think about who could play Evelyn in a TV adaption. She has the energy of someone fierce like Jennifer Lopez, but Lopez is definitely too young to play the aging Evelyn. I pictured Josh Brolin as Mick Riva, Harry Hamlin as Harry Cameron (not just because of the first name), and Olivier Martinez at Max Girard. I thought Meagan Good would be perfect as Monique.
If you read the book, I am so curious to hear what you think! And please share who you would cast in these roles for a TV adaptation.