Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Where do I begin with this book?
First I feel I should mention this was my third read by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I adored the first two books I read by her and was expecting a lot from this one. And here’s the thing: she delivered. This book did not disappoint in any way and I will now officially read anything she puts out.
But back to Evelyn Hugo (and Monique Grant).
This book hooked me from the beginning and didn’t let me go until the very the end. There was so much I loved about this story and I’ll try as best I can to summarize it all here.
First, the diversity. I want to scream and hug Taylor Jenkins Reid for the diverse bunch she presented in this book and for doing so flawlessly. I’m 100% for diverse books but I feel too many times authors end up adding token characters for the sake of diversity. Not Taylor Jenkins Reid, not in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
The main character was a bisexual Latina in love with a lesbian, her best friend was a gay man, and she tells her story to a biracial journalist working for a black woman. And none of it felt forced and I appreciate that more than I can put into words.
Some of my favorite passages were the ones where Evelyn discusses her sexual orientation. Making it clear she was not straight, not lesbian but bisexual. Even in today’s world where so many support the LGTBQ+ Community, it seems the B in that acronym are so misunderstood and simply erased. Another issue this portion of the community sees in literature are stereotypes, specifically the threesome stereotype – not in this book. Evelyn asserting her she was nothing more and nothing less than bisexual was in many ways refreshing and so needed. My only problem was that TJR toyed too closely with too much telling and less showing in this portion, which is a big pet peeve of mine, but I also think it was needed for Evelyn to assert, in no uncertain words, her sexual orientation when speaking with Monique in order for her story to make sense.
I also deeply appreciate it Evelyn’s struggle with her Latina heritage. And I think this comes from personal understanding and seeing myself in Evelyn in some ways. Even though the chunk of Evelyn’s story occurs in the 50’s-70’s, what she says about being Latina, about how it’s sometimes much easier to hide that portion of oneself and blend in a little too well with white America rings too true to me. It can be a little unsettling to see such an icky thing about yourself reflected back at you in book form but I can appreciate its power and hope to do better in ways Evelyn didn’t.
Another portion of the book that cannot go unmentioned is Hollywood’s use of sex and sexual favors to advance a career. It would be an interesting portion of the book on any given day but presented against the current background of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and the like it must be mentioned. Evelyn very much owned her sexuality and sex life. She talks about it as a mutual beneficiary exchange – she gives up sex for better roles – but I can’t help to think about the situations coming to light when the exchange, as it were, is not as willing or on even footing, and I wish that had been touched upon – but to be fair, TJR wrote and published this book before all of this came to light.
Overall though, the story was incredible. Evelyn is such a complex character and I love all the nuances about her. It would be easy to hate her but as Monique realizes at the end, the hate would be anything but uncomplicated. As much as I’d like to assert, as Evelyn does herself, that she was a bad person, it’s not that easy.
Did her character do horrible things? Absolutely. But I can also understand, empathize, and even say I would do some of the same things in her shoes if it all came down to protecting those I love.
That said, I did have some issues with the ending. The way Evelyn’s story ends and how blasé, in some ways, Monique is to it all felt off to me somehow. I can’t put my finger on why it bothered me so much but it does. So why still a five-star rating? Because in some ways I think Taylor Jenkins Reid meant for it be that way. Evelyn was a character with a thousand shades of grey, you loved her, you hated her, you mistrusted her, yet understood her motivations. The end to her story couldn’t be tied into a perfect, neat bow and I respect that.