I’ve decided to start a new segment of my website where I review books I’ve listened to. I’m hoping to do one per week and post them on Sundays, but I’ll see how I go. This week I finished Evelyn Hugo, and right now I’m listening to Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, so stay tuned for that upcoming review.
Soldiering on, spoilers abound for The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo.
When I first stumbled upon The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, I thought, “Well, it may be chocked full of heterosexuality, but it has a nice cover.” That’s what usually gets me: nice covers. I don’t know what I was expecting more than a heterosexual starlet with commitment problems, but I got a whole lot more than I could have dreamed of.
The Goodreads summary:
“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.
“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—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very 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.”
Evelyn Hugo—Cuban, from a poor background, and ruthless in getting to the top of Hollywood’s elite—is a striking figure. From the first moment Monique Grant enters her home, we get the sense that Evelyn is no nonsense. But she is tired. After all these years, and after everything that unfolded throughout her life, she is ready to let go.
This isn’t a novel about Evelyn’s husbands. This is a novel about a bisexual immigrant who fought tooth and nail for every opportunity she earned. While the novel does talk about her many husbands, it also examines the way bisexuality intersects with race, gender and power in a life where you’re only worth as much as the adoration you get from fans.
Like any other queer woman reading this novel (or listening to the audiobook, as I did), I see some of myself in Evelyn. I too have had a great love, and although we had a falling out, like Evelyn does with Celia in this novel many times, she remains so dear to me. Who among us hasn’t exchanged letters with a woman they are in love with? Evelyn and Celia’s story is one that spans decades and many tragedies. I had to google Celia’s ending because I was so sure she would die halfway through the novel, but she doesn’t. She and Evelyn live a long and happy ten years together until Celia’s death, and when I heard that Celia dies, I cried my heart out. I’m crying right now just writing this.
I once read that our minds see characters as real, so when they die we feel it as though they’re a real person dying, and reader, I feel that. I feel that as keenly as any death I’ve had in my family. Evelyn is a real person to me, one who lived, loved, felt heartbreak, and died alone after seeing all her loved ones die around her. This is not just a book about Evelyn’s husbands; this is a book about one of the most extraordinary characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding.
While this chronicles the events of the second half of the 20th Century, what matters is how they affect Evelyn. In 1969, she witnesses the Stonewall Riots, and she and her gay friends (Harry, John and Celia) decide they can’t riot with them. As much as they want to throw the shackles of societal conformity from their shoulders, them being there would be more about them than the cause. So they while away their days in assumed straightness, Celia married to John and Evelyn married to Harry, while Celia and Evelyn are a couple, as are John and Harry.
And when the AIDS crisis happens, Evelyn is disgusted by Reagan’s lack of response, and mourns the loss of Harry’s friends with him. They have a child together, and this sparks in Evelyn a brightness that she would otherwise have never known. She tells her daughter Connor, right before Connor’s death of breast cancer, that the one thing she was put on this earth to do was be Connor’s mother.
Evelyn is not perfect. She scams her way into getting the things she wants, and she reveals that she ruined a man’s reputation after he died in a car accident that Harry caused. When Monique learns that her father was the man Harry killed, that her father was gay and closeted but that he couldn’t fracture his family by leaving them, we see the depths of Evelyn’s selfishness in a new way. But we also learn the lengths of what people will do for the ones they love.
Heartbreaking. Incredible. Fascinating. This book is absolutely one of the best things I’ve ever read/listened to. Pick it up as soon as you can. I promise you, you won’t forget Evelyn Hugo easily.
Shameless plug: I have a new book coming out, Daughter Of The Valley, book #1 in the Moon Cycle series. You can find the summary and links to pre-order it here.