British author Sue Margolis’ previous novel, Spin Cycle, featured a heroine trying to find success as a comedienne. In my review I noted that Margolis herself is a better comedienne than a writer, and after reading Apocalipstick I am even more convinced that she is in the wrong profession. She’s funny in a raunchy sort of way that would work well in a stand-up format, but she fails dismally at creating a compelling romantic comedy novel.
This book is full of clichés, starting with the heroine, Rebecca Fine, who writes a newspaper fashion column but who really wants to be an investigative journalist (one wonders if there are any fashion columnists who are happy with their positions). Then we have the meet-cute incident in which the obnoxious commuter whom Rebecca fights with on the way to work turns out to be her hunky new co-worker, Max Stoddart. We have the meddling Jewish grandmother, the overly-ambitious best friend who uses flash cards to teach her six-month-old baby about world history, and the worst cliché of all, the Bitchy Other Woman.
While the novel does employ a few fresh ideas, most of them have nothing to do with the main romantic plot. Rebecca’s widowed father, Stan, announces his engagement to a younger woman who turns out to be Rebecca’s childhood nemesis. Instead of the beautiful, cruel diva Rebecca is expecting, Bernadette “Lipstick” O’Brien turns out to be chubby, sweet and rather dim. But can Rebecca trust the new, reformed Lipstick, or is it part of an elaborate plot? The answer to that question is less obvious than it seems. Also, Rebecca’s pursuit of a possible scandal in the cosmetic industry, while absolutely far-fetched, is humorous and unpredictable.
In fact, if Margolis would just stick to pure comedy she probably could write a decent novel. But whenever the focus switches to Rebecca and Max the story suffers. The Other Woman conflict feels like a manufactured Big Misunderstanding conflict so the happy ending doesn’t take place after the first hundred pages. Rebecca’s refusal to trust Max’s claims of innocence does not bode well for the longevity of their relationship. On the other hand, an issue that should have been a real source of concern for the couple is quickly glossed over, apparently because Margolis was approaching her word count.
Starting with her debut novel, Neurotica, Margolis established herself as one of the raunchier British Chick Lit authors, and Apocalipstick is no exception. A subplot about the impotency problems of the husband of Rebecca’s best friend spares no details about the husband’s “willy-nilly.” One of the love scenes between Rebecca and Max stretches the boundaries of good taste by combining sex in a public place with some dubious maneuvers by Max’s toes. I just hope he keeps his nails well-clipped.
I don’t know why I keep reading Sue Margolis’ books. Her comedy is outrageous but her writing is at times excruciatingly amateurish. If I had paid full price for this novel instead of receiving a review copy I would have felt cheated, so I can’t recommend it. I would enjoy seeing Margolis on Comedy Central, however.