Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
Published by Berkley
Publication date: April 30, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Historical
When I was a pre-teen and even into my early teen years I would go to the local library and, using ‘safe’ magazines like National Geographic as covers, slip issues of the completely unsafe and utterly wicked Cosmopolitan to a quiet spot where I could learn: 3 easy ways to make a man fall for me, why eyeliner is the difference between having a date Saturday night and staying home, and how short is too short for skirts in the workplace. All complemented by layouts of glossy, exotic women living a life I could only dream of at the time. My love for that magazine was so great that when I saw that Renee Rosen’s latest novel was about Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo’s founder and editor for decades, I knew I would be reading Park Avenue Summer.
Alice Weiss wants to be a photographer, but it’s 1965, she’s in New York City, and she has no professional experience—just pretty photos she took at home in the Midwest. Desperate for a job she agrees to be the secretary for the new editor at Cosmopolitan, a traditional women’s magazine, ala Good Housekeeping. The Hearst Corporation has put a woman in charge in an effort to freshen up the magazine and, hopefully, save it. Except they weren’t counting on a woman like Helen Gurley Brown, who would want to change it. Who would toss out the tuna casserole recipes and replace them with articles about the new birth control pill. Who would dump advertisers like Pampers, Mr. Clean, and Swanson’s and pursue Maybelline, Clairol, and Chanel. The men in charge don’t like this at all and soon want her gone.
In Park Avenue Summer Rosen makes no attempt to paint Brown as some icon for the next generation of women. She was clearly a product of her times and those times required an acceptance of male attitudes towards working women and the mindset to work around them. Beat them at their own game as it were. She firmly believed in using feminine wiles to get your way. High heels, short skirts, pretending frailty or stupidity, seduction…whatever it took to get what you wanted. In some ways, she was incredibly liberated and in others, to today’s women, embarrassingly dated and superficial. Still, Rosen writes her as real and I appreciated it.
Park Avenue Summer is told from Alice’s point-of-view, giving the novel a clear-eyed perspective on all of Brown’s idiosyncratic behavior and her fierce determination to succeed, alongside Alice’s own drive to not only help her, but to forge her own path as a photographer. That, plus a Mad Men ‘60s sensibility throughout, makes for reading that is easy and satisfying. It may be a bit too soon for summer reading, but don’t let that stop you. Park Avenue Summer is buzzy and bright, an antidote to heavy, dark fiction. A great escape.