Media Circus

With the reissuing of "Valley of the Dolls," the great unsung genre of the late 20th century -- the Shopping and Fucking Novel -- finally gets some respect.


Chris Haines
October 1, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)

After 15 years, Grove Press is about to reissue "Valley of the Dolls," Jacqueline Susann's 1966 watershed novel about pill-swallowing, celebrity-screwing, scenery-chewing actresses and models. And just about everyone is in a tizzy. Drag queens are organizing readings. k.d. lang croons the theme song on her latest CD. The New York Times is heralding a "new Jacqueline Susann Zeitgeist."

Grove editor-in-chief Ira Silverberg says "the other Jackie" is poised to grab popular culture by the balls: "Jackie Susann personifies a certain pill-popping glamour of the 1960s, which we need. She was a Pucci-clad superdiva." Grove plans to release Susann's other classics, "The Love Machine" and "Once is Not Enough" in January. Her entire oeuvre is expected to follow.

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Although the Times tends to trumpet its cultural epiphanies, there is nothing "new" about the Jacqueline Susann Zeitgeist. Stories about horny, drug-addled women never stopped fueling the mass market paperback industry. What exactly does the paper of record think we've been reading at the beach and on planes for the past 15 years? Ben Bradlee? If the reissue of "Valley of the Dolls" signifies anything, it is the canonization of the great unsung literary genre of the late 20th century: the Shopping and Fucking Novel.

The Shopping and Fucking canon includes anything by Susann, Danielle Steele or Sidney Sheldon. Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying," "Scruples" by Judith Krantz and "Blue Skies, No Candy" by New York magazine food writer Gael Greene are the genre's holy trinity. If you haven't read these masterpieces, then surely you've seen the miniseries or stumbled on a well-thumbed paperback at a summer house. Or maybe you're a heterosexual man.

Although it may seem that sex is what makes these books continue to sell, make no mistake about it: unzipping a wallet and laying down a credit card is every bit as vital to these narratives as any other unzipping and laying down that transpires between their covers. "Scruples" -- considered by many the |ber Shopping and Fucking novel -- doesn't borrow its title from the morality of its sex-crazed characters, but from the fictional name of "the world's most lavish specialty store, a virtual club for the floating principality of the very rich and the truly famous."

For those who want to broaden their literary horizons, I've compiled the following requirement list for entry into the S&F pantheon. Feel free to print out the list on pink manuscript paper before making your next trip to the bookstore.

1) To cut the Shopping and Fucking mustard, there must be oodles of shopping, preferably at designer boutiques, preferably in Rome. Words like St. Laurent, Givenchy and Pucci should appear no less often than other personal pronouns like me, her or him.

2) Sex, and I don't mean one or two suggestive scenes marked by a well-worn crease in the spine, must occur in at least a one-to-one ratio to shopping. Page 193 (chosen at random) of "Scruples" yields the following: "She felt his hot tongue tracing her ass and the sensation was so maddeningly good that she pushed back against him and found herself rotating her pelvis without conscious design."

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3) The book must be written by a woman, with the exception of Sidney Sheldon, who has a woman's name.

4) Women must be referred to as broads. Anyone referred to as a "woman" in a Shopping and Fucking novel is a feminist. Which means she is a lesbian. Heroines are never same-sex oriented, although plenty of them fantasize about going down on other broads.

5) Shopping and Fucking broads are always Super Beautiful! Super Talented! and Super Horny! And they always have one good, strong man who takes care of them, tolerating and/or encouraging their extramarital affairs:

"He let out a low whistle. 'Babe, you're built like a brick --' He stopped suddenly and smiled. 'Well ... let's say you're better than any top fashion model.'

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"She laughed. 'That's why I adore this Pucci. It clings and makes me look --'

"'Fantastic.'"

This from a conversation between father and daughter Mike and January Wayne, the protagonists of "Once is Not Enough." In the next scene, Mike -- a famous producer -- encourages a studly Italian actor to fuck his daughter maddeningly.

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6) The story reads the same whether you start at the beginning, middle or end. Which means that you can pick 'em up and put 'em down without conscious design, just like the broads do with their men -- and their credit cards.

7) The cover, featuring a gauzy shot of semi-clad female anatomy, must look like a soft-core Hallmark card. And, after one sweaty-palmed reading, it must fall off. Not only does this appropriately allude to the unveiling that happens within, it disguises the book for subway reading.

8) The sacred and the profane. These stories inevitably focus on celebrities -- world-famous actresses, designers, screenwriters and psychoanalysts. Yet they always maintain the flavor of small-town gossip, where the coveted piece of ass is thy neighbor's wife, who just happens to be an international superstar model.

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9) There must be a cavalier attitude toward drugs. According to Silverberg, Susann and her rainbow-colored dolls led the way: "I think that Jackie opened the door to all of those people. She introduced middle-class drug addiction." By the time Gael Greene came along, her Upper West Side mavens were practically expected to sit around in caftans smoking a joint.

10) Not all Shopping and Fucking novels are novels. Plenty are written as self-help manuals or even as autobiographies, but that doesn't diminish their luster. In "Mayflower Madam," Sidney Biddle Barrows rhapsodizes about her favorite aspect of running a high-class escort service.

"I took her [Tara, a call girl] to Saks, where I helped her select a handsome business suit and a silk blouse. As I told the girls more than once, 'If you're walking through the lobby of the Pierre at midnight, you want to look as if you belong there.'"

(Biddle Barrows, of course, learned everything she needed to know about the escort business from the executive training course of Abraham and Strauss, the bygone New York superstore.)

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As the list above makes clear, the lasting appeal of the Shopping and Fucking Novel is its full-throttle approach to female fulfillment. This is one place where women can violate the patriarchal spermatic economy (where spent seed equals spent money), voraciously shopping and fucking without a single calorie of guilt. Not only do S&F novels provide a safe space for sexual fantasy beyond the reach of those nasty communicable diseases, they offer the added-value illusion of interest-free spending in a sluggish economy. And, at bargain table prices (you should never pay retail for one of these books, darling) they're not only a good deal, they're a steal.

Oddly enough, the first Shopping and Fucking novelist was a straight guy: James Joyce. (Is it a coincidence that my copy of Ulysses is missing its front cover?) His feminine creation, Molly Bloom, spends her entire literary existence in bed thinking about you-know-what:

"he can stick his tongue 7 miles up my hole as hes there my brown part then Ill tell him I want #1 or perhaps 30/ Ill tell him I want to buy underclothes then if he gives me that well he wont be too bad"

In "How to Save Your Own Life," the sequel to "Fear of Flying," the brainy and zaftig Erica Jong reveals (among other things) her genre's debt to Molly:

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"'I'm going to Bloomingdale's darling,' I'd say, quite unconsciously affirming the deep connection between sex and shopping, between Bloom and Bloomingdale's ... All those women promiscuously spending money, stuffing shopping bags with things, charging, charging, charging to their husbands' accounts, were starved for sex! So many holes to fill! So much misplaced passion!"

Cultural theorists might call the canonization of these books a backlash against the backlash against the supposed excessiveness of the 1980s, blah, blah, blah. In fact, S&F novels never stopped being popular. Why? Because shopping and fucking are fun, stupid. And they're just as much fun to read about.

And in a world where straight men still call most of the shots, there is something deliciously satisfying to women (and men like me) about women who demand more -- and get it. As "Blue Skies, No Candy's" Kate instructs us:

"Keep one hand on his cock and the other pointed toward Cartier's."

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Chris Haines

Chris Haines, the editor of Tony Awards Online, enjoys a free lunch as much as complimentary ice cream, but would prefer both.

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