When Alice Weiss left her small town in Ohio for New York, she only had one aim: becoming a photographer. Yet, live wasn’t easy for an inexperienced young woman with high ambitions. A friend of her deceased mother arranged her an interview for the job of a secretary. Not exactly what Alice was looking for, but, well, she needed money and working for Helen Gurley Brown who had just taken over the Cosmo magazine seemed as good as any other job. What she didn’t expect was that her time as Helen’s right hand would bring her much more than just the money to survive: she learned to be ambitious, not to see marriage as the only goal for a woman and to stand up for herself. 1965 wasn’t quite ready for feminism and so wasn’t Alice. But things had to start finally.
Renée Rosen tells the story of Helen Gurley Brown who published the bestseller “Sex and the Single Girl” before becoming editor-in-chief of “Cosmopolitan” and transforming the magazine from a housewife read to the most widely sold independent women’s magazine. Talking openly about sex was simply scandalous in 1965 and showing sexy pictures of women was also new in the magazine world, but it was especially her attitude that made a big change. The character of Alice Weiss, the protagonist of the novel, is yet just an invention, but one I highly adored while reading.
Apart from all that is connected to Brown’s difficult start at the magazine, which I found quite interesting from today’s perspective, I liked Alice from the start. She is not the typical naive country girl coming to the big city. However, things are very different from what she was used to and she had to find her place in the Big Apple. Rosen portrays her in a very authentic way: she is sometimes insecure but ventures to overcome this and dares to speak for her own, she is working hard for her dream and does not give up even after horrendous experiences, she is at times torn between wanting to be independent and looking for a husband to marry. Also the way she describes New York of 1965 was wonderful, you are conquering the city together with Alice.
A brilliant behind-the-scenes novel which skilfully combines fact and fiction and offers a girl’s story without being a kitschy love story, quite the contrary: it shows our mothers in fighting for female independence.