Jacqueline Susann Essay - Critical Essays

Susann, Jacqueline

Ms. Susann, an American novelist and actress, has written three commercially successful novels.

Who can resist the impact of Jacqueline Susann? Howl if you like over those ten million sold copies of Valley of the Dolls or the $1.5 million reportedly paid for movie rights to The Love Machine, but it's all just caviling, really—this is the front runner. Jacqueline Susann is the Joan Crawford of popular novelists. With little talent, but with alarming determination and what amounts to a genius for promotion, she has polished her limited act to a species of stardom: her name is a household word. She may not be very good, but she is indefatigable, and, like a nightclub performer eager to please, she delivers. She has created a genre, The Jacqueline Susann Novel, by taking a simple formula—putting thinly disguised celebrities into bed with each other—and adding a touch of breathtaking conviction.

Nowhere in Susann's work is there evidence of writing down; she approaches her tawdry fictional world with the same belief in its importance as Louella Parsons had covering Rita Hayworth's wedding. She writes like a truck, of course, but she does move things fast (her use of connective three dots in the breathless rush of the prose is a standard, and inimitable, technique), and her themes are few, simple, and reassuring: loose living, in the end, is bad; the rich and famous, for all their glamour—and often because of it—have troubles aplenty; sex is not love. She has, moreover, caught the essence of truly popular writing: her characters are glamorous because they are either lucky, in which case anybody can identify with their success, or because they are ruthless egotists, in which case anybody can feel superior to it….

The trouble is … that it's impossible to have a good time with [Once is Not Enough]; in fact, it marks a dark variation on the whole tradition of popular pulp fiction. A certain amount of cynicism has always been an ingredient in this kind of fantasy, of course—the characters, like the writing itself, are usually no better than they should be—and bitchiness we've come to accept as a lackluster substitute for wit. But the feeling of this book is something closer to disgust. The world here is not merely terrible, but tired and corrupt in a mindless way.

Joseph Kanon, "All the Fun People," in Saturday Review of the Arts (copyright © 1973 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), April, 1973, pp. 87-8, 94.

It would give me genuine pleasure to go against the critical grain and say flat-out that Jacqueline Susann has written a fine novel [Once is Not Enough], to declare firmly that her new book is a sensitive and skillful evocation of contemporary American life.

Can't do it. Not today.

It happens to be 467 pages of letterpress soap opera with a ton and a half of weird sex buckjumps and gambados stirred in.

A lot of people, maybe a million, will be fully satisfied with this, but I must nevertheless accuse Miss Susann of premeditated mopery. The true and classical definition of mopery: exposing one's self before a blind man in the middle of a public highway….

As for the story of Once Is Not Enough, it is a montage trying to mate with a kaleidoscope. It fairly teems with people indulging in the strangest of strange pursuits. There are things in this book that would drive old Havelock Ellis straight into a life of celibacy; and I can hear Dickie Krafft-Ebing growling in his low Dutch: "I was nice enough to give them sex, and now look what they've done with it!"

H. Allen Smith, in Chicago Tribune Book World, April 29, 1973, p. 4.