Twenty years ago, Allie Denty wasthe pretty one and her best friend Olivia Pelham was the smart one. Throughout high school, they were inseparable...until a vicious rumor about Olivia-- a rumor too close to the truth--ended their friendship.
Now, on the eve of their twentieth high school reunion, Allie, a temp worker, finds herself suddenly single, a little chubby, and feeling old. Olivia, a cool and successful magazine beauty editor in New York, realizes she's lonely, and is finally ready to face her demons.
Sometimes hope lives in the future; sometimes it comes from the past; and sometimes, when every stupid thing goes wrong, it comes from a prettily packaged jar filled with scented cream and promises.
Beth Harbison has done it again. A hilarious and touching novel about friendship, Love's Baby Soft perfume, Watermelon Lip Smackers, bad run-ins with Sun-In, and the healing power of "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific." Hope in a Jar: we all need it.
Harbison (Secrets of a Shoe Addict) pushes a thin plot to its word-count limits in her latest confection, the tale of two former friends who reconnect at their 20th high school reunion. When Allie Denty--tall, blonde and, these days, just a bit heavy--discovers her boyfriend in the sack with another woman, her primary coping mechanism involves a credit card and the Sephora counter. Allie figures that some Dior lashes will help her feel more confident at her reunion--an event that the lovely, formerly mousy Olivia Pelham has no intention of attending until her mother shows up on her doorstep, licking her wounds from a breakup with husband number five. At the reunion, Allie and Olivia have an awkward meeting and go their separate ways until Allie learns that a mutual friend plans to marry a cosmetically enhanced Mean Girl from their class. It's life makeover time for both women, as they get in touch with their true feelings about beauty, careers and, most importantly, love. Like the face cream from which it takes its title, this is slick, light and indulgent. (July)
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St. Martin's Press
July 06, 2009
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Excerpt from Hope in a Jar by Beth Harbison
I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan,
and never never never let you forget you're a man . . .
--ad for Enjoli perfume by Charles of the Ritz
The only thing worse than finding out your boyfriend is cheating on you with a beautiful woman is finding out he's cheating with an average woman.
Allie Denty learned this the hard way, when she got off work early and walked into her bedroom to find what appeared to be a seal flopping under the covers of her previously made bed.
It was hard to say who became aware of whom first, or who was more surprised. At almost the moment Allie entered her bedroom, a woman she'd never seen before popped her head up from under Allie's 450-thread-count Martha Stewart sheets and screamed like a banshee.
"But--" Allie began in shock, as if they'd been in the middle of a conversation.
She didn't have time to finish the thought, whatever it might have been, because the woman leaped off the bed, stumbling to pull the sheet around herself, only to reveal Kevin, whose hands were bound over his head with his Jerry Garcia necktie.
The tie Allie had given him for Christmas last year, even though it cost more than all the other ones at Macy's.
Every muscle in Allie's body clenched and she looked in alarm from the banshee to the boyfriend she'd so foolishly--and so completely--trusted.
"What the--" Allie tried again. "Kevin! What is going on?"
The woman had stopped screaming, but her breath continued to sputter out in ragged gasps.
"Allie," Kevin said, but it sounded like he was trying on someone else's voice. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Allie, this isn't . . ."--it was clear halfway through his sentence that he knew how lame it was--"what it looks like."
"It looks like you're fucking some other woman in my bed," Allie said. To hell with manners. She'd just discovered that she was less attractive to her boyfriend than a woman who, now that she got a better look, could have played the before in an ad for just about any diet, exercise, or lifestyle cosmetic ad in The National Enquirer. Her light brown hair was lank and shapeless; her eyes were the same dull shade as her hair; her mouth a thin pink line, too small in a somewhat doughy face.
And her butt--which Allie unfortunately got a good look at--was even more cottage-cheesy than Allie's.
Granted, she had a perfect, straight nose. But was that what Kevin was attracted to? A model-perfect nose on an otherwise completely unremarkable face?
"Well," Kevin said, struggling out of his bindings. "It's complicated . . ."
Allie didn't remember what came after that. Not a denial exactly. How could he deny it? Good Lord, the condom was still hanging off his shrunken skipper. Wasn't what it looked like? It was exactly what it looked like.
Nothing complicated about it.
"I should go," the woman said, hastily pulling her clothes on.
"You think?" Allie gaped at her. Then horrible realization came over her. "Wait a minute, aren't you the one who brought those paper samples to the office last month?"
"Your order will be ready on the seventh!" the woman said defensively. "There was a delay with the printer for the watermark."
This was surreal. The unremarkable woman who had sold them Kevin's new letterhead at a deeply discounted price, the woman who had asked to use the restroom and who had then--Allie couldn't help noticing--taken a very long time and emerged with a bit of toilet paper stuck to her shoe, was now in bed with Kevin and marking the end of Allie's past two years.
"Allie, we can work this out." Free of the necktie, Kevin got out of bed, just like Allie had seen him get out of bed naked a million times before. Only there wasn't usually another woman in the room.
Fortunately, Paper Girl didn't wait around; she just thundered from the room and a moment later the front door slammed.
One gone, one to go.
"Really, Kevin? The discount paper vendor? Seriously?"
"She didn't know about you," Kevin said in defense of the one person whose emotional stake in this was the smallest.
"What, did she forget I was the one who placed the order with her a few weeks ago? When she got here, did she miss the pictures of us all over the place? My stuff in the bathroom? Is she blind? She shouldn't have been here, Kevin"--her voice shook with anger--"but more than that, you shouldn't have brought her here--"
"--so now you get out."
He was maddeningly calm. "Let's talk about this--"
"Get out," Allie said, and her voice grew stronger as she said it. "Get out!" She picked up his jeans from the floor, his underwear, his stupid Star Wars T-shirt. "Get the fuck out!" She hurled his clothes at him and pushed him out of the bedroom toward the door.
"You can get your stuff out of here later. Or I'll send it. Just"--she shoved him toward the front door--"get"--she picked up his damn Hanes 32 briefs and threw them into the hall, hoping modesty would make him go after them like a dog--"out!" She slammed the door and turned around.
Immediately she heard a noise in the hall.
A woman's voice.
Oh, God, she'd been waiting for him. Coconspirators, keeping secrets from Allie, comparing notes, hooking arms and leaving together. It was disgusting to contemplate.
For a long moment Allie stood there, listening to the murmuring voices through the door, fearing she might hear a giggle or an outright laugh. But all she heard was talking, then shuffling footsteps, the ding of the elevator's arrival, and then . . . nothing.
Nothing except for the low moan that rose in her own throat, a moan that slowly rose to an explosion of sobs. She hadn't seen this coming. That had always sounded so stupid when it was other people saying it, but it was the honest-to-God truth. She'd never dreamed Kevin would be anything less than faithful to her, just like she was--unquestioningly--to him.
Come on, it wasn't like he was some sort of hot-stuff hunk with movie-star looks. He was an average Joe. An average Kevin. With a high IQ and a decent personality. Every once in a while he'd made her laugh. Well, chuckle anyway.
For two years--two long, ignorant years--Allie had given up the dream of finding a soul mate because she believed Kevin was so good for her. They'd just moved into her apartment together, and were looking for a new place. A bigger place they could buy together.
She'd thought they were on the path to a pretty good life partnership.
Instead, he was sleeping with another woman when he thought Allie wasn't going to be home.
Who was he?
If he wasn't who she'd thought he was, who was he?
And what had happened to the guy she thought she knew? Did he just . . . not exist? Could she have been that wrong?
"Allie!" Kevin's voice was faint outside the window but it still startled her. "Allie, please!"
She stood motionless, like an animal frozen with indecision. Cross the road or run back in the woods?
"Can you at least throw me my wallet and my keys?"
Her eyes fell on the bedside table. There they were. Just like every night. Evidently that was his bedtime ritual, no matter what he was going to spend his time doing in bed.
And no matter with whom.
She considered throwing them in the incinerator. That would certainly create a moment of great satisfaction.
Revenge was always tempting. However, it was seldom satisfying and almost always had some stupid ramification you didn't think of. In this case, she'd probably have to endure an hour and a half of him sitting out there, waiting for AAA to come open his door, or for Lexus to cut him a new key and bring it to him, and then there would be calls from his credit card holders, and--she didn't want to deal with it.
She grabbed the wallet and keys and went to the living room, where there was a tiny balcony.
He was standing in the grass below.
"You want these?" She held them up.
"Yes, Allie. Please."
"Then take them." She hurled the wallet, and enjoyed the solid thump when it hit him in the forehead. That was one good thing about having had an older brother growing up--she didn't throw like a girl. "And don't forget your keys." She raised them in her hand.
"Not in the face!" he shrieked.
Even in her anger, the pool of betrayal and hurt feelings, she wished he would be a little more of a man about it.
What would the neighbors think?
She dropped the keys over the railing instead of hurling them. There. Let him climb through the azaleas to find them. He was no longer her problem.
She went back to the bedroom, stripped the sheets off the bed, stuffed them into the washing machine, set the water to hot, and dumped in half a box of soap. After a moment's hesitation she added several cups of bleach.
Then she went to the bathroom to wash her hands. She spent a long time at it, scrubbing as if she could wash the last hour away, to make it so it had never happened.
Finally she gave up and stood in front of the mirror, gazing into her own confused face. What had just happened? Where had she gone wrong? And when?
The woman gazing back looked like she'd given up a long time ago. The hair was dry, and where once it had been a silky light blond, now it was brassy from home coloring. Her cheeks looked soft . . . no, doughy. The lines by her eyes, which didn't bother her most days, looked, today, like they were carved in with the sharp edge of a putty knife.
Worse, by far, the optimism that she'd always taken for granted in her soul had gone to sleep somewhere along the way--maybe a long time ago, now that she thought about it. There was nothing happy in her eyes. She looked defeated.
She felt defeated.
She was defeated.
Allie sank to the floor, her body suspended not by bones but by deep, heaving sobs. She couldn't believe this was happening. Had happened. Had probably been happening for a long time and she just hadn't noticed.
Stupid stupid stupid.
She hated Kevin.
But when it came right down to it, she knew this was her fault. It wasn't the other woman she couldn't compare to--it was herself. Where had Allie gone?
Somewhere she'd let go of her dreams and, at the same time, she'd let go of her hopes. She'd settled for a life of tedious temp jobs and a rented apartment and a man she didn't really love, a man who clearly didn't deserve her trust.
Allie had settled for all of that.
And for that she hated herself most of all.
"Noah, it's me. Again. I'm sorry to be a pain, but I just . . ." Allie swallowed, trying to keep her voice from wavering. She didn't want to sound pathetically needy.
Though, given the fact that this was the third message she was leaving on his cell phone--and the fact that he would see she'd called about a dozen more times without leaving messages--she was already in the first-class section of the Pathetically Needy Train.
". . . just wanted to talk to you," she ended lamely.
Where was he anyway? Noah was a workaholic--she could always get ahold of him because he was always at his architectural drafting board, either at home or the office, working.
Then again, he had mentioned he was seeing someone "newish" so maybe he was out with her, whoever she was.
Allie disliked her already.
The poor girl didn't stand a chance. And Allie was feeling just uncharitable enough to hope that Noah would dump her soon so Allie could have him to herself again.
Not "have him" have him, of course. There wasn't anything romantic going on. Never had been. They'd been friends since eighth grade, as soon as it was no longer taboo for boys and girls to talk to each other without making dramatic gag noises.
Not that it would be hard to feel for a guy like Noah. Allie and her friends used to joke that he looked like Matt Dillon's better-looking brother back when Matt Dillon was a current reference (and not long after Allie's room had been plastered with magazine cutouts of Matt Dillon). At six foot, he was a comfortable four inches taller than Allie, and he was broad enough that she felt feminine next to him (as opposed to Kyle Carpenter--from the summer after college--who, at five foot nine, had made her feel like an Amazon).
But despite the fact that he looked like her teenage crush and was the perfect height for her, Allie never even hinted at having a Thing with Noah because she didn't want to lose their friendship.