02.27.10 6:27 PM ET
Do I Have to Read Jackie Collins?
Despite a promising title— Poor Little Bitch Girl—Collins's new book is a disappointing but hilarious attempt to prove she's hip with Gen Y. The Daily Beast's William Boot, who reviews bestsellers, on her reckless Ashton Kutcher references and outrageous sex scenes.
Poor Little Bitch Girl
Author: Jackie Collins
Readable pages: 163
Sample quote: “Any woman who depends on a man to giver her an orgasm is either a fool or in love,” she responded, blowing smoke rings in his direction.
I’m sad to report that Poor Little Bitch Girl, currently No. 6 on The New York Times bestseller list, isn’t nearly as glorious as its title. I was ready for a full-on Jackie Collins romp, 400-plus pages of sex, withering putdowns, great intrigues, sex. But PLBG is a stupid and sour novel, and more than a little childish. Not to blow you away with high-falutin’ references, but it has all the nuance of Sweet Valley High.
The most interesting thing about Poor Little Bitch Girl is that it’s… young. Collins has refitted the traditional romance novel with fresh faces. Our heroine is Denver Jones, a 25-year-old who has somehow found time to graduate law school, try two high-profile Hollywood cases, and make senior associate at the firm of Saunders, Fields, Simmons & Johnson (how Collins must have labored to make those names sound grand). Denver is joined by Annabelle Maestro, a spoiled daughter of Hollywood who is running a prostitution business in Manhattan, and Carolyn Henderson, a U.S. Senate aide who is carrying on a fling with her senator.
Denver, Annabelle and Carolyn were classmates at a Beverly Hills high school, and that is where Collins’s brain remains stuck. She’s so intent on making this book feel young and frisky that she flings around the names of Gen Y cultural markers as recklessly as characters tear off their clothes. An incomplete list of the names appearing here: Jake Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt, Chace Crawford, Rescue Me, Zac Efron, Owen Wilson, Justin Timberlake (spotted poolside by one character), Snoop Dogg, Simon Cowell, Rick Fox, Ugly Betty, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Efron again, and Amy Winehouse. Bobby, a wealthy shipping heir, has “a hint of the young John Kennedy Jr., a touch of the Ashton Kutcher edge, and the mysterious allure of Robert Pattinson.” Say this for Jackie Collins: She has renewed her subscription to People.
The boldfaced names are Collins’ way of hammering home her other great theme: money. In my time reviewing bestsellers, I have come to the conclusion that wealthy bestseller writers can’t resist recreating the trappings of their own life. This goes double for Jackie Collins. She isn’t just writing escapism. She’s writing a diary. When Denver takes a “white ultrastretch limousine” around Las Vegas, when she walks into a four-bedroom hotel suite furnished with “a pool table, a full bar, and a white piano in the living room”—not to mention the “gleaming turquoise lap pool” right outside the door—Collins is offering us mere mortals no aspirational joy. We’re not even thrown a kinky adjective or two. Collins writes about wealth like she is reviewing her hotel bill.
The plot is a contrivance. Annabelle’s mother has been shot to death, possibly by her father. Denver is the legal eagle assigned to the case. Carolyn, meanwhile, has informed the U.S. senator about their impending bundle of joy. The senator has received the news by saying, “Take off your top, get down on your knees, and do that thing with your tongue you do well. We’ll call it a celebration.” Then he panics and has Carolyn kidnapped.
Call me naïve, but I was shocked by the unspeakable things Collins does to her women. I realize the title is Poor Little Bitch Girl, and I know a plucky heroine must go through various trials, like Hercules performing the 12 labors. But the three women here suffer countless indignities. Carolyn is kidnapped in an attempt to bring on a miscarriage. Annabelle is raped by a disgusting client. (“He dropped his pants, revealing…a small, angry, uncircumcised penis pointed in her direction.”) Denver is tricked into participating in a threesome, called “girl” by her piggish boss, ordered around by all sorts of sexist goons. Annabelle’s mother is shot in the head. If you’re going to write a divine piece of trash, then you should distribute the pain and humiliation equally. But Collins lets her men off easy. About the only hardship suffered by Bobby, he of the mysterious allure of Pattinson, is that he’s seduced by a famous pop star.
I didn’t want to be a small, angry critic. I wanted to like this book. When the heroines weren’t being treated shabbily, I dug Collins’ way of seeing the world. A male character invariably has a “Greek nose” or a “Roman nose.” Collins loves “craggy” faces. Collins is most back-patting bestseller author I have ever read: “That was enough for him to feel damn good about himself”; “I don’t wish to sound immodest, but I’m usually right”; “I don’t like to sound immodest, but I have managed to earn myself a stellar reputation”; etc. She could have been Tony Robbins in another life.
Likewise, Collins’ courting of the Gen Y set has suffered some charmingly rocky moments. I’m pretty sure the comeback “Not!” disappeared around the time of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, and “it takes one to know one” went out with Lyndon Johnson. I cannot believe Annabelle would refuse an iPhone and prefer a landline. But these anachronisms represent Collins at her goofy best. What she tried to do in Poor Little Bitch Girl is court both the Gossip Girl crowd and the generation raised on yellowing paperback bodice-rippers. This is a book in which a hip twentysomething can say, “I opened up to him like a flower thirsting for water.”
It almost makes you long for genteel, old-school smut. After she has two one-night stands, Denver says, “I am not a tramp, and I am certainly not a slut.” Even the prostitutes who work for Annabelle’s call-girl service “were not hookers,” Collins assures us. “They were stylish, good-looking career women who enjoyed the extra income.” This is the Jackie Collins I like, the sweet and demure one.
William Boot covered the war in Ishmaelia and wrote the Lush Places column for The Daily Beast. He now reviews bestsellers.