For most writers, the shorter the piece, the harder the work. The novel is easy compared to its one-page synopsis, and nothing causes more angst than coming up with a title. Naming our literal babies is easier than naming our literary ones. That’s why I was so drawn to Sue Margolis' novel,
"Apocalipstick." But could a book with a title that clever live up to the promise of its name? I’m happy to report that Ms. Margolis does not disappoint.
"Apocalipstick" is a laugh-out-loud delight, with engaging characters, movie-worthy scenes, and a triple-scoop ice cream cone of a plot.
London-based heroine Rebecca Fine is a combination of Bridget Jones and Stephanie Plum. A freelance investigative reporter who’s scraping the bottom of her bank account, she takes a job as a make-up columnist for the beauty supplement of Daily Vanguard magazine. Although she’s still itching for a scoop, when she pitches an expose on wrinkle cream, her boss Lucretia – a “Devil Wears Prada” boss for the reality TV age – informs her that they don’t do anything to upset advertisers.
Rebecca’s work days get more interesting with the addition of Max, an attractive working investigative reporter who takes an immediate shine to her. And soon a real story falls into her lap – a “Deep Throat” of the wrinkle cream world tells Rebecca that a famous cosmetics company is about to release a cream that contains a dangerous ingredient. With Lucretia taking a leave to participate in a “Survivor” type show, Rebecca goes to Vanguard’s managing editor, Charlie, who gives her the go-ahead to pursue the story. While juggling her romance with Max and her new story, Rebecca barely has time to worry that her long-widowed father is getting married...to a woman her age...who went to school with Rebecca...and bullied her. But Bernadette – once nicknamed “Lipstick” – has evolved into a big-hearted woman who remembers Rebecca but not their tormentor-victim relationship. In fact, Bernadette is the one who comes up with the scheme to steal a sample of the rumored dangerous wrinkled cream. But is this Bernadette’s only scheme? And his Max too good to be true?
The story’s supporting characters are just as well-drawn and funny as Rebecca. There’s Rebecca’s best friend Jess, a new mum who’s driven to distraction by her husband’s inability to get it up. Her Grandma Rose, a Jewish version of Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur, whose sole reason for living seems to be playing matchmaker for Rebecca. “Perhaps he’s not very gay,” she says about a potential suitor. “It’s possible he’s just confused.” Even the supporting characters’ supporting characters are three-dimensional, such as Lucretia’s assistant, Snow, and Jess’ husband and mother – “In my day, one’s husband kept his scrotum firmly under his hat.” Even Tony Blair makes a cameo.
The book does have a few shortcomings. I found the relationship between Max and Rebecca to progress too quickly to my liking. I also thought an explicit sex scene between them was out of place, tone-wise – although I’ve heard publishers are asking for these kinds of scenes, so that may be the reason why. More broadly, I think chick-lit heroines who are prone to pratfalls and embarrassing misunderstandings – as Rebecca is – have become cliché. While these scenes are funny, they are also becoming predictable and common. The latter also enables the writer to avoid her heroine having to face real conflict in her important relationships: When all problems occur because of misunderstandings, there are no true hurdles to overcome.
Overall, "Apocalipstick" is a terrific companion that will keep you laughing with and at its heroine. It’s a must-read for chick-lit fans, and devotees of Bridget Jones and Stephanie Plum will be especially entertained.
Thanks to Apostrophe Books for the e-book in exchange for an honest review.
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