When I was given the chance to review the new Sue Margolis book, I jumped at it. I’m not a big reader of chick lit, but who could resist a title like Apocalipstick? While the rest of the book, it turns out, is as clever as the title, it clearly can’t be taken seriously, since too much of the plot revolves around really improbable coincidences, and the heroine doesn’t grow or develop in any meaningful way. It’s like a really raunchy sitcom, complete with shallow characters, absurd situations, and one-liners. But the characters, the situations, and the jokes are all outrageously funny.
Londoner Rebecca Fine has just landed a new job as beauty columnist of the Daily Vanguard, forcing her to write about toe cleavage and mascara while she dreams of breaking a serious story. At the same time her sixty-year-old widowed father, Stan, announces that he’s marrying again. Not only is the woman he’s marrying Rebecca’s age, she’s also Rebecca’s old nemesis from high school, Bernadette, better known as Lipstick. Rebecca, who remembers Lipstick as having the personality of “Mrs. Satan the day before her period,” is understandably horrified by this news and is convinced Lipstick is marrying Stan for his money.
On the up side, Rebecca has just met Max Stoddart, who at first appears to be too “flash” (what we here in the States would call flashy), but turns out to be a pretty decent guy who shares Rebecca’s enthusiasm for old Seinfeld vids. Unfortunately, their first date takes a truly awful twist when Rebecca realizes she forgot to shave one of her armpits. Oh, the horror! Then Rebecca spends most of that night in the emergency room after she walks into a mirrored wall and cuts her head. Not the world’s greatest first date by any stretch of the imagination, but she and Max proceed into a wobbly, up-and-down relationship, anyway. Since this is chick lit, not romance, we see things entirely from Rebecca’s point of view. As a consequence we don’t really get to know Max, which is a real pity, because he’s quite the charmer, with a few secrets of his own.
Further complicating Rebecca’s life is Grandma Rose, who wants only to help Rebecca find a man (Jewish, of course, and preferably rich to boot). She finds her an ideal-sounding fellow on a “lonely hearts Web site” and is only mildly discouraged when she discovers what “GWM” stands for. She suggests hopefully that “perhaps he’s not very gay.” Later Rose lists Rebecca on another Web site, dateadoctor.com. Meanwhile, Rebecca’s friend Jess, a new mom who’s relentlessly drilling her two-month-old with flash cards, is having troubles with her husband, who, as Margolis humorously puts it, has gone “willy-nilly” and, as a result, can’t perform his marital duties. As the book progresses, Rebecca stumbles onto a makeup story with international ramifications. Will this story, which involves a facial cream with a mysterious additive, make her career, or will everyone just assume that she’s nuts?
Like a lot of heroines in chick lit, Rebecca obsesses over her looks a bit too much. She buys a dress that’s a trifle too tight and vows to lose the weight by the next day by drinking Slim-Fast, but when she gets home thinks the weight-loss shake looks too skimpy and adds all the Ben and Jerry’s and creme fraiche she can find. She dubs the resulting concoction a “Slim-Slow” and gulps it happily down, deciding she’ll burn a few calories later by… using a vibrator. The favorite weight loss program of single women everywhere, apparently. Does Jenny Craig know about this?
Lipstick turns out to be stunningly dim, but not nearly as awful as Rebecca remembers. Rebecca herself is a bit on the ditzy side; when she goes to France to steal a sample of the face cream, a jar of it drops into her lap (almost literally) and yet she still manages to lose it. Rebecca is also prone to assuming the worst about everyone – she overhears snatches of conversation and puts the absolute worst spin on them several times. Even so, she’s a fairly solid, likable character whose occasional excursions into shallowness didn’t annoy me excessively.
This book is English, with a lot of British idioms, some of which I understood readily enough (“lift” for “elevator,” for example) and some of which were difficult for me to figure out (“knackered” means “exhausted,” I think). Even so, I got the points most of the time and they were, for the most part, hilarious. The humor is frequently extremely crass, but even my husband, who’s something of a prude, laughed out loud at the explanation of why men snore. Yes, Apocalipstick is coarse, vulgar, and crude, but it had me rolling on the floor more than once.
There are some problems with the book, however, including the over reliance on coincidence. Granted this is an over-the-top comedy, but the constant flow of amazing coincidences eventually undercuts the plot. For example, when Rebecca desperately needs to talk with the Prime Minister of England, she just happens to go out with a “bloke” who’s attending a press conference with Tony Blair the next day. Another problem was that as all the plotlines weave together at the end of the book, the flamingly irreverent sense of fun dies to mere embers, and the sweet tone of the ending doesn’t fit well with the wicked tone of the rest of the book.
Nevertheless, Margolis’s latest effort is a lot of fun. Don’t read it if you’re in the mood for a deep, complex plot; well-developed characters; or touching insights into the human condition. Don’t read it if you’re in the mood for tasteful, low-key humor, either. But if you want to laugh your head off at raunchy sex jokes and absurd situations, by all means go ahead and pick up Apocalipstick now.