Park Avenue Summer. Renee Rosen. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101991145.
Alice Weiss fulfills her dream by leaving the Midwest to live in New York City. She has few skills and only one connection, a friend of her mother, who connects Alice to become the secretary of the now legendary Helen Gurley Brown. At the time of this novel’s account, the magazine Cosmopolitan is massively failing and Helen Gurley Brown is hired to revive it before it dies. Connected to the Hearst family, Helen gets the job but is expected to fail. However, no one realizes how vastly talented is this new Editor-in-Chief, no matter how crazy her ideas sound!
Gurley envisions a new post-WWII woman, a woman who can work, have ideas and has unspoken thoughts about sex and fashion that are shocking and elicit rejection from all men and quite a few women as well. Imagine wondering, at that time in the 1960s, how one could improve one’s sex life, look sexier, stand out as powerful and capable women, and so much more.
Staff on the magazine are quitting by droves and there are those who leak to the public Gurley’s ideas which in one sense gets attention, both negative and positive. Alice meanwhile learns the hard way not to trust fellow employees, both male and female. Sex seems to be a tool but Alice is too much of a strong woman, although horrified and intimidated at first, to become part of the manipulative betrayals happening throughout the office. She herself has apprentice-like skills as a photographer and meets Christopher, who mentors her and never goes beyond a professional and friendly stance, with a hint of something more looming in the future.
When the July issue finally emerges, it has rave sales but Gurley still has to fight to have her ideas for the future emerge unscathed by the Hearst family.
Park Avenue Summer is a delightful read, both for depicting the historical changes happening in a society wanting “more” in the personal and professional worlds. Nice job, Renee Rosen!