Despite being an avid reader and an even bigger purchaser of books, I do not often preorder titles. I tend to wait until I’m ready to read the novel before I commit. However, that wasn’t the case for Carrie Soto is Back. Not only did I preorder it, but I also made sure to preorder an autographed copy! Why? Because Taylor Jenkins Reid, the author of Carrie Soto is Back, is a phenomenal storyteller. Through novels such as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones the Six, and Malibu Rising, she has ripped out my heart, made me do a deep dive, self-reflect, and fall in love with many incredible characters. To prepare for a reintroduction to Carrie Soto, she was in Malibu Rising; I decided to reread The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising, and Daisy Jones and the Six immersing myself in the world of the glamourous Old Hollywood, the beaches of Malibu, and backstage at multiple concert events.
The first novel on my list was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. A novel that I hold in high regard, that I’ve read now for the second time, and that I possibly love even more than I did the first time I read it. What I find hysterical, however, is that initially, I wasn’t a bit intrigued when I first heard of Evelyn Hugo. The title, and the cover, I had a slight hesitation. Okay, maybe it was more disinterested than having a delay. However, I had just joined a new book club and felt it was vital for me to participate, especially with it being the first selection.
Told through multiple timelines and perspectives, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a historical fiction novel about an Old Hollywood starlet named Evelyn Hugo. Evelyn, who has been largely absent from the public spotlight, has agreed to sit down with Monique Grant, a Vivant magazine reporter who also provides the first perspective of the novel. Of course, Evelyn provides the second perspective the story is told through, and the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride from old Hollywood parties, multiple film sets, and the trials and tribulations of love. I found it incredibly hard to put the book down.
‘I said, “Doesn’t it bother you? That your husbands have become such a headline story, so often mentioned, that they have nearly eclipsed your work and yourself? That all anyone talks about when they talk about you are the seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo?”
“No,” she told me. “Because they are just husbands. I am Evelyn Hugo. And anyway, I think once people know the truth, they will be much more interested in my wife.”
– Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, page 385
The novel is primarily divided up by the husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Ernie Diaz, Don Adler, Mick Riva, Rex North, Harry Cameron, Max Girard, and Robert Jamison are the seven husbands; however, as Evelyn said, I was more intrigued by her wife, Celia. But before we get to her and the self-reflecting, she made me do, I want to discuss two of her husbands that made lasting impressions.
First, Max Girard, who was a very talented yet narcissistic French director that Evelyn would end up marrying. I initially loved the character. Like Evelyn, I was drawn to his artistic mind, and even though he is a fictional character and even though the movie they created together was fictional, I couldn’t help but find myself scrolling, googling, searching the interwebs to see if the scenes described in their films matched actual films that I could watch. Spoiler. By the novel’s end, Girard becomes an abusive prick, and I couldn’t help but dislike him. The second husband I want to take a moment to mention is Harry Cameron, who, out of everyone, might have been the only person who truly understood Evelyn and loved her unconditionally without unrealistic expectations. In February 2022, during The Cupid Book Tag, I mentioned the pair and their dynamics in the fourth question. What’s the best friendship you’ve read about in a book? I called their relationship goals and said it reminded me of my relationship with one of my best friends, Brittney. And after reading the novel for the second time, I stand by that statement.
If I’m being honest, I’m not a massive fan of Celia St. James, the wife of Evelyn Hugo. At times I found her toxic, dramatic, and essentially selfish, yet I am grateful for this character. Celia St. James made me take a step back and look within myself at how I have treated those who identify as bisexual within the LGBTQ+ community. Those whom I love and call friends and family. For a long time, I was dismissive and pretended that the B didn’t exist within the LGBTQ+ community. Those reflections then opened the door to productive conversations; as a whole, I have grown as a human.
With the release of Carrie Soto is Back, I had the perfect excuse to return to the world of Evelyn Hugo and revisit this novel. And despite knowing what would happen, I still found myself gripped by each twist and turn with the hope that the story would change somehow magically. I even teared up at the end. I also found it notable that despite knowing this is a work of fiction and Evelyn Hugo is not a real human being, I searched endlessly for her as if she were real. Yes, I am aware that she is based on actresses like Elizabeth Taylor, who married seven different husbands, and Ava Gardner, who revealed the secrets of her life to a journalist, at least that’s according to Wikipedia; however, I wanted to find her. Maybe I should read Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations and learn more about Elizabeth Taylor. Just a thought.
When the reader is not within the world of Evelyn Hugo and glamorous Hollywood, we are with Monique, whom I found to be such a solid, fascinating character. We, the reader, don’t spend much time with her; however, Taylor Jenkins Reid did an incredible job of giving her so much depth and range, which can be said for all the characters within the novel.
One of the major themes of the novel. The theme that struck a chord with my being is family and the importance of the family you choose to surround yourself with. Throughout the story, this theme constantly emerges, which I think most humans can relate to. In full transparency, I come from a huge family, and I’m not exactly close with everyone. When I was sick, only a few showed up. However, my tribe, the humans I do life with, and the humans I call my family aren’t necessarily of blood relations. This story element provided a tremendous connection with the character of Evelyn. Our situations are entirely different. However, I understood her need and desire for it.
In preparation to spend time with Carrie Soto, the second novel I decided to read was Malibu Rising, which came out last summer. Like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the story spans multiple decades and heavily focuses on family. Did I mention it’s also set in the same world as Evelyn Hugo? Malibu Risingintroduces the reader to Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit, the children of Mick Riva, Evelyn’s third husband, whom she decides to marry to hide the fact that she’s in love with Celia St. James. The reader is also briefly introduced to June, Mick’s first wife and the biological mother to Nina, Jay, and Kit, who raised Hud, the child of Mick’s mistress.
The plot synopses reads, “Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.” The present-day of this story takes place on August 26, 1983, with different sections of the novel jumping back through time as far back as the 1950s. Each section of the novel peals backs layers, leading to one epic conclusion.
Carrie Soto makes a brief appearance in the novel. Spoiler. She is having an affair with Nina’s husband, Brandon. She is also the same woman Brandon left Nina for. Because the reader does not get Soto’s perspective, she isn’t necessarily presented in the best light and seems a little unhinged, which does intrigue me. I hope we learn more about her affair with Brandon and why she decided to pursue a relationship with him, although he was married.
While I found this novel equally fast-paced and salacious at times, I didn’t find the overall read compelling nor did I connect with any of the characters like Evelyn; however, that may have been due to an unrealistic expectation I set for myself and this read.
The last book on my list was Daisy Jones and The Six. Initially, I wasn’t planning to add this one to my reading list. Then as I began writing this essay, I realized I would be doing both myself and Carrie Soto a severe injustice. Like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and The Six captures unbelievable magic as it tells the story of an iconic 1970s rock group and their lead singer. When I say that it captures incredible magic, I mean that despite knowing that this is historical fiction, every cell in my being swears that these characters are real people and that this is a real band. And my heart, my heart loves each of these characters. What adds to the experience of consuming this novel is the format itself. The book’s structure is written as an interview/script, and the audiobook is narrated by actors such as Jennifer Beals, Judy Greer, Pablo Schreiber, and Benjamin Bratt, which only adds to what makes this book so iconic.
I stated before that with the release of Carrie Soto is Back, I had the perfect excuse to reread The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising, Daisy Jones, and The Six. Some people might question, “If you love these books, why do you need an excuse to revisit them?” However, a hurdle I had to overcome was thinking I was cheating myself out of time rereading a story when there are so many stories in the world to read. It’s the doublethink I do, and I, too, find it annoying.
In an interview, Taylor Jenkins Reid recently said she had the most fun writing Carrie Soto, which makes my little literary heart happy. While I’m looking forward to this read, I’m not going into it with certain expectations or even knowledge of the content within this book. What I know is that Carrie Soto is a tennis player, and she is returning to the game to defend her title. That said, I know very little about tennis; however, I hope it closely resembles Terry Fallis’ Albatross, where the sport isn’t the main focus, and you can understand what is happening despite not being fluent in the game.