Olivia Goldsmith (1949-2004) – The First Wives Club (1992)
Toeing the line between art and trash, this highly enjoyable novel was one I literally could not put down. To backtrack: last summer I read one of Olivia Goldsmith’s posthumously published novels, Dumping Billy, and really liked it. It was a quick read, a confection devoured in one day, but I could tell that its author had actually been talented and not merely peddling whatever would sell. A few days ago I took a look at my bookshelf, noticed The First Wives Club gathering dust, and decided to give it a whirl. (It might help that Jennifer Lawrence recently gave a vaguely controversial shout-out to the movie at the Golden Globes, so I was reminded of that when I saw the book.) It was Goldsmith’s first novel and an immense success. It’s easy to see why: sex, drugs and suicide are just a few of the book’s widely discussed topics.
I’ve read a bit about the 1996 film adaptation starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton, so I was thinking of it while reading. Although the movie is probably fun, it sounds vastly different from the novel. It’s apparently more on the “slapstick” side of things, whereas the novel has many dark and dramatic moments amidst the comedy. The movie is rated PG, obviously excising much of the novel’s R-rated language, abundant sex scenes and other mature themes. It seems that there was also a major change made in the movie’s plot regarding one of the wives, who comes out as a lesbian in the novel but who is straight in the movie; in a reversal, another of the wives, who has two sons (one named Chris) and a daughter with Down syndrome in the novel instead has a lesbian daughter named Chris in the movie.
There’s some awful irony in Olivia Goldsmith’s death: complications from cosmetic surgery. The First Wives Club is filled with snarky asides about those kinds of women who ruin themselves with plastic surgery and yet that desire to edit her looks ended up killing Goldsmith. It’s quite sad; she was a very good writer, the kind whose novels were more than “beach reads.” Don’t believe what some reviewers have said (here’s an example); just go out and enjoy the book. Both women and men can learn from Goldsmith’s entertaining and informative brand of satire.