As part of my memoir writing diet, I have been reading memoirs about medical and mental illness. However, I saw that Holly Madison had written a memoir about her time living at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner. I figured it would be a fascinating read, even though not strictly related to the type of memoir I was writing. When my library request came in, I ran to get it and devoured it in two days, staying up past my bedtime to finish it.
I found Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison to be fascinating and boring. Part of the reasons why it was fascinated me are inextricably linked to the reasons why I simultaneously found it boring until it became fascinating again, but for altogether entirely different reasons. Let me explain. As I have never been interested in either fame or being a Playboy bunny, I felt a deep interest in wanting to know what would make a person want those things that are foreign to my way of thinking. What would drive a person to want those things? I was hoping that I would find out, but I was disappointed.
What makes a story gripping is getting to know how a person’s life drives them to do what they do. Holly glosses over her childhood and fails to explain why her need for fame is so deep. She wants fame because she wants it, as if that is enough a compelling enough basis for a story. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a writer, even when that writer is a former Playboy bunny. If you want me as a reader to care about your story, then I need to know how life has shaped you into needing fame to the degree that you do, especially when faced with adversity in the pursuit of that goal/need. I’m not sure that I got that. I think the phrase “lack of depth in the main character” applies here. As a result, I kept feeling bored even as I had to keep reading it. Even though it’s two days later, I am still annoyed by this. I also did a bit of eye rolling near the end when she exclaimed, more than once, about how they wanted “me!” for a show or a part. I mean, that’s all great for Holly as it is personally meaningful for her, but not necessarily for me, the reader.
Initially, the fascinating parts of the story are what you might expect in a tell-all biography and memoir: the he said, she said; the gossip; the name dropping; the partying; the inter-girlfriend fighting; the backstabbing; the inside peek to life at the Playboy Mansion as one of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends; the clothing; the clubbing; the alliances made, then broken, and remade; the jockeying among girlfriends for status; the publicity and the fame. Even so, I kept yearning for more. Eventually, I do get it.
One piece of feedback I have heard as a writer is that your heroine must take action. She can’t just sit back and do nothing. Holly repeatedly describes herself as timid and meek and, throughout, seems to take a lot of verbal and emotional abuse from Hefner as well as the other girls, abuse that I am not sure I could have taken on the way to my dreams. In one jaw-dropping scene, Holly describes Hefner screams that at her that she is a cunt. She lets it slide, but my anger would have gotten the best of me. I could not imagine myself giving any other response, but to tell him “Fuck you, Hugh”, to pack my things, and to walk out the door. I have too much a sense of pride, a quick temper, and an arrogance of belief that I deserve to be treated well by others, just as I ought to treat others.
To me, the most exhilarating part (and the real story) of the memoir begins when Holly begins to say NO. She finally says NO to staying on as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend; NO to attempts by others to capitalize on her fame as Hefner’s ex-girlfriend after she leaves the mansion; NO to letting her boyfriends’ attempts to control her; and NO to turning over Peepshow to another Playboy ex-girlfriend simply because of their shared past. She also says YES to being treated with respect, YES to a boyfriend who is shares her goals and dreams, and YES to motherhood. Her daughter Rainbow is adorable.
If you’re a lover of entertainment and gossip and Hollywood, then you will likely find Holly Madison’s memoir less boring than I did, notwithstanding the writing itself, which is quite good. If you want a memoir where you need the heroine’s internal life and character to be a meaningful driving force in the unfolding of her life, then maybe you should put this one down and pick up another one.