Once is Not Enough by Jacqueline Susann
Morrow, 1st edition, 1973
Genre: romance, chick lit, trashy novel
Synopsis & Review: Mike Wayne was a gambler, and he was lucky. When he left the Army after WWII, he had money in his pockets from card games and craps, and he had his eyes on the two biggest crapshoots of them all: the stock market and show business. The preponderance of beautiful women in the latter decided him, and he began trying his luck. Mike made it to the top, directing and producing on Broadway and in Hollywood, with hit after hit to his credit, a beautiful wife, awards and acclaim, and a corner suite at the Plaza. When his wife produced a daughter, called January for the month she was born, Mike fell in love for the first time, and vowed that even if his luck ran out, he’d give her the world. After his wife’s suicide, he sent January to an exclusive girls’ boarding school in the Northeast, but always made sure to spend special days and her birthday with her. On her weekend trips to New York City, they’d go out, father and daughter, seeing all the glitter and glamour of Broadway, and sharing Dom Perignon and caviar. Upon her graduation, January joined Mike in Italy on the set of his latest film, and it was in Italy that Mike’s luck ran out.
After three years of intensive surgery and rehabilitation in Switzerland’s exclusive Clinique, January Wayne was ready to be reunited with her beloved father, showbiz mogul Mike Wayne. For the past three years, the only thing keeping her spirits from sinking into a morass of pain and depression had been her love for Mike Wayne, her Superman, her everything. She’d been consumed by her desire to reunite with him, thought constantly about how it would be when they could be together again, out in the great, wide world. And she was utterly unprepared for what it’s like out there. Mike wa married now, to the sixth richest woman in the world, Dee Milford Granger. After a series of flops and misses following January’s accident, Mike swallowed his pride and became Dee’s consort at hourse parties and backgammon tournaments, all so that he’d have something to offer January when she came out of the Clinique. Suddenly, not only has the world changed around her, but the great playboy, the man’s man she’d looked up to her whole life is neutered. And so January begins trying to find out just who she was, bewildered and beguiled by popular culture circa 1971.
January’s old friend Linda Riggs from Miss Haddon’s is now editor for Gloss, a fashion and women’s magazine, and Linda begins shepherding January through the changes in the world. Mike and Dee both encourage January to date Dee’s nephew David, and up and coming broker, so he takes her on dates to Maxwell’s Plum and Le Club. Meanwhile, David is seeing Karla, a stunning actress in retirement, but Dee is desperate to keep David from Karla, as she is also Karla’s lover. So she dangles January before David, inheritance strings attached. Meanwhile, January is falling for Tom Colt, another man’s man, but a writer, and one even older than her father to boot. Everyone’s desperately scrabbling for happiness, and if all these rich, talented, beautiful people can’t find it, then what chance does poor, sheltered January stand?
Before VC Andrews but after Forever Amber and Peyton Place, there was Valley of the Dolls and Jackie Susann. I was fortunate to stumble upon the then-out of print Once is Not Enough (along with Dolores–also in hardcover–and a paperback copy of The Love Machine) at a St Vincent dePaul bookstore. Paving the way for ever trashier and more successful fiction, Susann penned three number one bestsellers in a row–a record–before dying of breast cancer in 1974. Once is Not Enough was the third of those bestsellers, following after The Love Machine, and it’s a very different, possibly far better book than Valley of the Dolls ever was.
Is it ridiculous? Oh, my yes. Is it high camp? Indubitably. Is it fun? Indescribably. Once is Not Enough is another of Susann’s romans a clef, fabulous books about fabulous people and the not so fabulous lives they live. Everyone is either beautiful or famous or wealthy or powerful–sometimes all of them at once. And they all drink and screw and cheat and lie, glamorously, of course. But despite the seeming tawdriness, there’s a strong strain of morality running throughout her books, and Once is Not Enough particularly captures Susann’s reactionism. Making the old adage, “All that glitters is not gold” new again, Susann demonstrates that even new glitter is still just glitter, and that it’s just shining up the same old world; instead of big budget spectacles, people flock to “dreary motorcycle pictures”–but they still flock. Once is Not Enough castigates a world changed from the old-fashioned glamour of post-war show business as celebrated in Valley of the Dolls to the new gleam of “the Uglies:”
Mike shook his head. “Know something? When you asked me in there, ‘Is that all there is?’ I can’t tell you whether that’s all there is or not. Because I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what is–in life, in show business … in anything. The whole world has changed. In my moves and all the movies of my day … the villain had to die. The hero won the gunfight, and ten years ago if I had a twenty-year old daughter who was dating a David, I’d have said, ‘What’s your rush? The world is your oyster. And I’ll give it to you.’ But I’m not the way I was any more than the world is the way it was. So maybe I am looking for a quick solid soft berth for you. Because I look at this bright permissive world of today and in my book it stinks! But I can afford to turn my back on it because I’m fifty-two. I’ve lived a good hunk of my life. But you can’t … because it’s all you’ve got. And I can’t turn it back to what it was. The corner suite at the Plaza belongs to someone else now. The Capitol Theater is now an office building. The Stork Club is Paley Park. That world is gone. You can only see it on the Late Show. Unfortunately you’ve got to face the world as it is now. So try to enjoy it. Because suddenly one day you wake up and find that you’re played out. It happens overnight. So grab every brass ring you can, because when you look back, it seems like a hell of a short ride.
Susann contrasts the bright optimism of the post-war years and January’s idealized childhood to the malaise inspired by the unsentimental world of sex and drugs she now finds herself in. Having missed out on the major years of change, January is an old-fashioned girl with more in common with her father’s generation than her own. Like Mike, she is flustered and confused by the new world order; many of Susann’s references depict a faded world eclipsed by the swinging scenes she satirizes. Time keeps moving on, passing some people by, while other move with the times. Once is Not Enough is essentially about someone who cannot come to terms with the world around her, someone who gives up when she realizes that she’ll never be as happy as she once was. It’s really very sad.
But like always, Susann is a guilty pleasure. Her books are gossipy, filled with cultural touchstones that evoke certain images and atmospheres for her readers. The prose is short and punchy, pulp at its finest, with plenty of sex, violence, and suffering. Because unlike the wish-fulfillment books that dominated women’s fiction after Susann’s death, her characters behave badly but believably, and they often suffer for it. There’s a certain gritty realism beneath the excessive Freudian psychoanalysis, glamour, and sensationalism, because her women are ambitious and unwilling to settle. They want it all: the career, the sex, the love, and if they can’t get fulfillment from one, then they concentrate on another. Her women don’t raise their consciousnesses, they grab for what they want.
Oddly, for such a steamy reputation and all the blunt talk by characters, there is very little in the way of bodice-ripping in Once is Not Enough. In fact, it’s laced with such awful scenes of bad sex, that the effect must have been intended high irony. Look for January’s very analytical first time with David; it’s a scream.
A fun, trashy novel with a liveliness and vitality that Judith Krantz or Jackie Collins could only aspire to reach.
Read also: Valley of the Dolls and Dolores by Jackie Susann, The Bestseller by Olivia Goldsmith
Cover: A nude, gilded female figure, posed like an Oscar, stands before a man’s blue eyes. The statue is Januray, our golden girl: young, beautiful, with everything to live for. The eyes are her father’s. Ivory background with black author and title of equal size. It’s ugly, but distinctive.
07 September – 09 September