The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Novel Beat Sheet Analysis
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Ebook edition: 526 pages, Washington Square Press/Atria Books
Genre: Buddy Love
Here is the beat sheet for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, the novel which has solidified author Taylor Jenkins Reid’s place as a star in the literary world.
The book is approaching 75 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. It has well over 100,000 Amazon reviews and has been translated into at least 12 languages. And it was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Historical Fiction of 2017. I think we can safely call it a blockbuster. A Netflix feature film has been announced, and I’m already looking forward to seeing how the book will be adapted for the screen.
Writing out one of Blake Snyder’s beat sheets for this story, however, necessitates a great many spoilers, so if you haven’t yet read the book, please be forewarned. And do check out this well-written and engaging novel when you can!
Here’s the summary of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo from the publisher:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & the Six—an entrancing and “wildly addictive journey of a reclusive Hollywood starlet” (PopSugar) as she reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
“Heartbreaking, yet beautiful” (Jamie Blynn, Us Weekly), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is “Tinseltown drama at its finest” (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.
Opening Image (front matter pp. 1-10, opening article pp. 11-12): In a news article dated March 2, 2017, it’s announced that film legend Evelyn Hugo will auction off her most memorable gowns to raise money for breast cancer research. Two million dollars is expected.
Set Up (pp. 11-40): Monique Grant is a biracial, 30-something, relatively inexperienced writer at Vivant magazine, albeit one who shows promise. She’s in the midst of getting divorced from her husband and is trying to deal with the emotions that come with this kind of life upheaval. Monique is still haunted by the death of her father, who perished in a drunk driving accident when she was 8 years old, and is preparing for a visit from her mom, who’ll be coming to town soon.
At the magazine, she’s still a nobody, which is why it’s extremely odd when 79-year-old film icon Evelyn Hugo specifically requests Monique to write a feature story on her about the upcoming charity auction. No one could have been more surprised than Monique herself. Her boss at Vivant is suspicious and not exactly supportive, but the boss wants the story for the magazine and intends to get it any way she can.
Monique heavily researches all the public details on Evelyn Hugo that she can find and then goes to meet the aging film star at her spacious and beautiful Upper East Side apartment. There are enormous pictures on the wall of a well-known producer, Harry Cameron, and a fellow famous actress, Celia St. James. Prior to the interview, Monique meets Evelyn’s assistant, who’s very kind to her. Evelyn herself is nothing short of enigmatic and, it turns out, she has an astonishing proposition for Monique.
Theme Stated (p. 45): Evelyn says, “You can be sorry about something and not regret it.” This has resonance throughout the novel in regards to things we do for love and, particularly, what we do to protect the people we care about. There’s another quote from Evelyn (p. 51) that is directed at Monique and the decision she needs to make: “Don’t be so tied up trying to do the right thing when the smart thing is so painfully clear.”
Catalyst (pp. 40-48): In the course of the interview, Evelyn reveals that she admires Monique’s writing, having read something of hers before, and that she doesn’t actually want to do the feature story for the magazine. That was just an excuse to get Monique to come over. What she really wants is for Monique to write her biography—or, more specifically, a “tell all” about her life. This is stunning news. Monique knows that this would be a gigantic, career-making project, one that would rake in millions of dollars and garner tons of media attention. Furthermore, Evelyn insists that Monique would get all the royalties from the book. Every penny. But… why?
Debate (pp. 40-63): Evelyn is evasive on her reasoning, and Monique is filled with self-doubt. Should she accept? What should she tell her boss at the magazine? She doesn’t want to lose her job and, yet, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she’d be foolish to pass up. Still, she has her concerns. Why would the famed Evelyn Hugo choose her to give this incredible gift of a story to (along with enough money from the book sales to make her very wealthy) when there were so many other more experienced writers out there? To all of this, the movie star says that it’s because Evelyn will be dead when the book comes out, but she won’t give Monique any further details. This should be an easy decision, given all the potential rewards, but for Monique, it’s still a leap of faith. Nevertheless, she eventually agrees.
Break into Two (p. 64): Evelyn starts telling the story of each of her seven husbands to Monique, which is woven into the tale of her life.
B Story (pp. 123-124): This is slightly out of order, but Evelyn’s relationship with Celia St. James defines the B Story. However, because Evelyn is telling Monique about her life chronologically, the introduction to Celia falls a bit later, in the midst of Fun and Games. It’s worth highlighting here, though, since it’s truly THE love story of the book. Evelyn and Celia become friends on a movie set. What begins as grudging admiration between them as actresses sparks fire and turns into a love story for the ages with all the requisite ups and downs. It’s clear from the beginning that, for Evelyn, there’s something very special about Celia.
Fun and Games (pp. 64-314): Evelyn’s childhood is marked by sadness, poverty, and family dysfunction. Born Evelyn Herrera to parents with a Cuban background, her mother (a chorus girl with loftier aspirations of fame and fortune than she ever achieved herself) tragically died when Evelyn was just 11 years old. Her father started making sexual overtures toward Evelyn as soon as she began to develop, which made living conditions for the young woman untenable. She knew she had to leave home.
In the story of her first marriage at age 14 to “Poor Ernie Diaz,” she explains how marrying him got her out of Hell’s Kitchen and brought her to Hollywood. Thanks to her crafty social climbing skills, following her divorce from Ernie and her marriage to big-name actor “Goddamn Don Adler,” she’s set on the path to becoming a movie star. Each of her seven marriages serves a different purpose—often publicity related—and has its own issues: abuse, infidelity, incompatibility, etc. There was “Gullible Mick Riva” (a reference to a character from another of Reid’s popular novels, Malibu Rising), “Clever Rex North,” and even a fake affair with “Brilliant, Kindhearted, Tortured Harry Cameron,” the producer Evelyn had been good friends with for years, who’d been living as a closeted gay man.
But Celia St. James is the constant. The rumor in Hollywood circles is that Celia is a lesbian. Evelyn comes to realize that she herself is bisexual, and Celia is the one for whom she’s long been pining. Midway through Fun and Games, Celia and Evelyn sleep together for the first time (p. 194), but this is a forbidden relationship for the era, and the stress of hiding their love takes its toll. Eventually, the pair have a serious falling out.
Midpoint (pp. 314-316): After five years apart, Evelyn and Celia run into each other again at the Academy Awards. They reconnect, kiss, and forgive each other… and almost immediately they get back together.
Bad Guys Close In (pp. 317-369): It’s the late 1960s at this point in Evelyn’s retelling of her life’s story, and she details the ways in which she and Celia worked around the restrictions of the time so they could be together. Celia had married a gay quarterback named John, who was producer Harry Cameron’s secret lover. Evelyn and Harry get married as well, and the two seemingly heterosexual couples buy houses down the street from each other in Manhattan. Or, as Evelyn so succinctly explains it, “Two men sleeping together. Married to two women sleeping together. We were four beards.”
For a while, this seemed like an idyllic solution but, of course, complications arose. Evelyn and Harry decide to have a baby together, and they have a daughter named Connor. Although Celia gave them her blessing to become parents, Evelyn’s choice to sleep with another person puts a strain on her relationship with Celia. To make matters worse, Evelyn is trying to revive her career by acting in a new movie that involves filming a very graphic sex scene with another man. This is too much for Celia to take. She leaves Evelyn, divorces John, and moves away.
All Is Lost (pp. 369-374): Evelyn admits to Monique that she lost Celia because she cared about being famous as much as she cared about their relationship. Being bisexual didn’t make her disloyal to Celia, but it took Evelyn too long to figure out her true priorities. This is an important distinction and one she needs to make sure Monique represents correctly in the biography on her life.
Dark Night of the Soul (pp. 375-400): Celia’s ex-husband/Harry’s lover John dies of a heart attack, rocking all of their worlds, especially Harry’s, who starts drinking heavily. Celia eventually moves on in her relationships and gets involved with another woman. Harry wants Evelyn to be happy again and encourages her relationship with Max, the director of her latest film. So, Harry and Evelyn get divorced as well but, of course, they’re still very close friends and co-parents to Connor. While writing about this era in Evelyn Hugo’s life, Monique has a revelation about her own divorce: It feels terrible, not because it’s heartbreak, but because it’s defeat.
Break into Three (pp. 401-423): Evelyn marries the director—aka “Disappointing Max Girard”—believing that this time it’s for love. Unfortunately, she soon realizes he can only love the idea of her as a starlet, not the real and very complicated woman she truly is. Evelyn reconnects with Celia, first by letter then by phone, and finally, she goes to California to try to win her back once and for all.
Finale (pp. 424-523): There are, however, some important changes that affect their future. Most notably, Celia is slowly dying of emphysema and needs to move out of Los Angeles. The two women intend to go together to Spain with Connor and Harry, but at long last, Harry has finally met someone who makes him happy. He desperately wants to stay in California. It is then that there’s a tragic accident. Harry and his new lover are in a car that Harry is driving. They crash, but it happens in a private location, so there are no witnesses before Evelyn reaches the scene. She came via taxi and, to protect Harry’s reputation and to keep him from being charged with drunk driving, she bribes the taxi driver (an aspiring actor) to help her move the dead man in the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, and to help her pull Harry out of the car. He’s gravely injured but, at this point, still alive. They take him to the hospital. Nevertheless, Harry dies there.
Connor has difficulty adjusting. She’s lost her father and is being pulled away from all she knows in the States to move to Aldiz, Spain. Evelyn gets married one more time to Celia’s brother, the “Agreeable Robert Jamison,” so they’ll all be able to live together and so that Evelyn will be able to inherit Celia’s fortune when she dies. Robert proves himself to be a good man, a supportive family member, and an excellent stepfather to Connor. Evelyn’s focus is on trying to make Celia’s final years as peaceful as they can be, but Celia does, eventually, pass away. Robert dies, too, after a time. And then Connor, who grew up and turned out well in spite of her youthful struggles, dies of breast cancer.
With her daughter gone and all the people in her life that she’d loved most dearly also dead (namely, Celia, Harry, and Robert), Evelyn doesn’t feel she has much left to live for. Especially now, when she reveals to Monique that she has breast cancer, too. She does, however, have one thing she’s intent on making amends for… and it involves Monique. More specifically, it involves Monique’s father, who did die in a drunk driving accident, but he was not the one driving. He was the man who’d been in the passenger seat with Harry. The man who’d been Harry’s lover. The man who’d made Harry believe he could love again. As proof, Evelyn shows Monique a letter her father had written.
It’s now clear why Evelyn Hugo wanted only Monique Grant to be the interviewer, as well as the sole recipient of the profits of this book. Evelyn wanted Monique to understand that, while the actions she took in removing Harry from the crashed car were done to protect someone she loved, she was still sorry for the pain it had caused Monique and her mother. Evelyn felt Monique should know the truth about her father, his innocence in the car accident and, above all, how much he’d loved his daughter. Not surprisingly, this is a lot of information for Monique to digest. She’s angry at Evelyn, but believes, in time, she’ll forgive her. And she has all the details she needs from the film icon to write the book on her life, if she so chooses. Evelyn Hugo, having completed her final act, says goodbye to Monique, sends her assistant away on vacation, “accidentally” overdoses on some medication, and dies peacefully at the time she’s chosen.
Final Image (closing article pp. 524-526): A final article from June 2017 entitled “Evelyn and Me” by Monique Grant is published in which Monique shares an excerpt from her forthcoming book about Evelyn Hugo in a Vivant exclusive. In the article, it’s revealed that Evelyn was a bisexual woman who had been, throughout her life, madly in love with Celia St. James. That she felt a responsibility to the LGBTQ+ community to be visible and to, at long last, show the world “the most honest and real thing about her.”