Tracing the complicated friendship of two very different women who meet in college, She Poured Out Her Heart is a novel of remarkable psychological suspense, crafted by National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson.
The night that Jane and Bonnie meet on a college campus sets them on paths forever entwined. Bonnie, the wild and experimental one, always up for anything, has spent the past two decades bouncing between ill-fated relationships, while Jane’s seemingly perfect life, perfect husband, and perfect children have all but materialized out of a fantasy. But these appearances contradict the quiet, inescapable doubt Jane feels about her life. One night, in the middle of her own Christmas party, she steps outside into the snow, removes her clothing and shoes, and lies down in the backyard. When she is discovered, nothing is the same for anyone. As Jane begins to have visions and retreat into a private inner world, Bonnie finds herself drawn inevitably into an affair with Jane’s husband.
Thompson’s mastery of complex emotion begets a novel of desire and the nature of love—who we love, how we’re loved, and, most important, that we reach urgently and always for a higher love, regardless of our circumstances. She Poured Out Her Heart is a finely wrought, haunting story of female friendship and deception, and the distance in between.
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Jean Thompson is the author of six novels, among them The Humanity Project and The Year We Left Home, and six story collections, including Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist) and, most recently, The Witch. She lives in Urbana, Illinois.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2016 Jean Thompson
“Somebody should tell her he’s not worth it.”
It took Jane a beat or two before she could say, “Who? Tell who?” She had been lost in looking at the apples, her vision gone greedy at the wealth of them. They were piled and heaped in bins, all the different kinds: Jonagold, Red Delicious, Braeburn, Fuji, Pink Lady. Honeycrisp, Winesap, McIntosh, Rome. The names promised an extravagance of tastes. Granny Smiths were bright chartreuse, Ambrosias were yellow, and the rest were all shades and textures of red. Deep and polished, or striped and freckled with green and gold, or blush-stained. Row on row on row, all the apples in the world. She was thinking of nothing, nothing at all. Her eyes had taken her out of herself. And when Bonnie said what she did, it took an effort to pull herself back to normal conversation.
“Who?” Jane said.
“Over there. Don’t look.”
Directed, then forbidden, Jane managed a sideways glance: a young couple, eighteen? Nineteen? The boy worked here, he wore the usual blue shirt and cap and he was standing next to a cart of produce boxes that needed unloading. The girl was thin, tense, wearing glasses, neither pretty nor unpretty. Jane saw what had drawn Bonnie’s attention, since the two of them were having an argument.
You couldn’t hear them, but it was plain enough from the girl’s beseeching face and the boy’s impatience and bluster. Something along the line of, Where were you last night? And, I had things to do. And, Well, are you coming over tonight? And, I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. Depends.
At least that was what Jane imagined them saying. Bonnie gave her an elbow nudge and Jane dropped her gaze. After another minute or two the girl gave up and left, walking fast through the whooshing automatic doors. Even from behind she managed to look entirely miserable. The boy called out to one of the other boys working, again something Jane couldn’t quite hear, something along the lines of, You believe that? Yeah, well she needs to quit doing whatever shit it was she did—the boy getting louder as he walked away from them, swinging his arms to show the ex- tent of his exasperation and belligerence. He had an unremarkable, coarse face, and his voice had a braying tone to it, and Bonnie was probably right, he wasn’t worth it.
“Why are women such idiots?” Bonnie said, throwing a plastic tub of lettuce in the cart. “I want to kidnap her and deprogram her.”
“You could probably catch up to her in the parking lot.”
“She’ll have to figure it out for herself. A few more years of degradation and self-abasement.”
“That sounds nice,” Jane said.
“Shut up, please. I’m being wittily bitter. Witterly bitterly.”
“Mhm” Somewhere, she had a grocery list. It wouldn’t be much help, since she’d gotten into the lazy habit of writing “fruits and vegetables,” instead of anything particular. The kids would probably eat apples if she sliced them up. She chose three of the ordinary red ones, McIntosh. Sep- arated out and sealed in a plastic bag, there wasn’t any magic left to them.
Bonnie trailed along behind her, giving baleful, disinterested looks at the celery and cabbage. It was all right to ignore her when she got herself all worked up like this, and in fact Jane knew she was meant to provide a certain going-about-her-business calm, while Bonnie had herself a little tantrum over her latest crash-and-burn love affair. Jane had already been through the escalating phone calls, detailing the events leading up to the final rupture, and had invited Bonnie over for coffee and a round of agreeing with all the terrible things Bonnie had to say about Patrick, whom Jane had never met. The tantrum could not be taken entirely seri- ously, just as Patrick could not be taken entirely seriously. When Jane said she had to get going on her errands, Bonnie surprised her by asking if she could come too. “I don’t want to be home so he can find me if he comes looking for me. Which he won’t. So I don’t want to be there wait- ing for him to not come over. You know?”
Jane knew. It was hard not to. Bonnie always told her such things They’d known each other since freshman year of college, and there was still that quality of late night dorm room oversharing, at least on Bon- nie’s part, because Jane’s life had gotten so married with kids, nothing steamy going on there. This, at least, was who they had agreed to be for the last ten years or so, even though by now there was an air of perfor- mance to it all. Bonnie was pushing past the age when she might have been expected to settle down. Instead there were still guys like Patrick, who was such an amazing brute in bed, but had some issues, in the past but still the recent past, with substance abuse. You were meant to be loyal, you were meant to be supportive, but honestly.
Loyalty? Even now?
You could run out of patience with playing your part, especially when it was assumed you wanted to hear all the lurid, depressing details be- cause your own life was, you know, dreary and conventional, while Bon- nie was a grande amoureuse. I mean, please. Patrick had even borrowed money from her, though Bonnie wouldn’t say how much, since that seemed to be more embarrassing than the sex stuff.
Bonnie said, “Is this the kind of occasion when it’s appropriate to send dead flowers? I could do that. He’d get the message.”
“I hope you didn’t let him take any naked pictures. You know, revenge porn stuff.”
“No,” Bonnie said, but not right away, meaning she had to think about it. For a moment her face lost its indignant, focused quality and wavered. Then she regrouped. “Not unless he had some hidden camera system, and I don’t think he’s bright enough.”
Instead of asking why it had seemed a good idea to invest (in all senses of the word) in a man who was either too dumb or too untrust- worthy, or both, for purposes of basic peace of mind, Jane said, “I forgot olives, would you go back and get a jar of olives? Kalamata. Pitted.”
Bonnie said sure and sauntered off, and Jane watched her go, think- ing that Bonnie should probably cut back on her drinking, it was making her gain weight. Or maybe Jane should wish that on her.
Jane steered her cart out of the main traffic path and rummaged her purse until she found the grocery list. If she didn’t arrive home with the right brand name products, her spoiled rotten children would whine. So that there must be fudge stripe cookies and Goldfish crackers and maca- roni made with florescent orange cheese, and so on. Of course, calling them spoiled was a cover for her own pleasure in buying such items for them and satisfying their passionate, trivial desires. It was a Mom thing.
She wondered if Bonnie would ever have kids. She talked about it from time to time. She hoped to God that Bonnie was using birth control. And if she wanted kids, she could find a sperm donor, or latch on to the next incarnation of Patrick and get herself a baby that way. Both of them were collapsing into their nervous late thirties now. Biology closing in. They were stale dated. All those calcifying, unreliable inner parts. Babies didn’t just come along when you wanted them to, lots of things went wrong. Nobody’s fault. Menopause would come down like the lid of a box for both of them, and there would be one less impossible worry.
Stop thinking thinking thinking
People ended up doing pretty much what they wanted to, didn’t they? In spite of anything they said. Watch their feet, not their mouth. Bonnie liked her life of high drama and dingy heartbreaks, it gratified some- thing in her and she didn’t want to change. Bonnie considered a lot of men “boring,” meaning they weren’t alcoholic or unavailable or in between jobs. She didn’t intend to settle for an ordinary, draggy life, like Jane’s.
But it wasn’t fair for Bonnie to want everything.
Jane consulted the grocery list one more time. She had procured “fruit” and now had to work on “vegetable.” Something she might be able to sneak into a plain lettuce salad, shredded carrots, maybe. The kids ate frozen corn and frozen broccoli with glop sauce. That was all she had to show for her efforts. Fine. Let them eat cake. Hadn’t she set herself on a track for what she’d wanted, hadn’t it all come to pass? She had. It had. Difficult to remember these days, when she was at the service of her fam- ily from eyes open to eyes closed, that she had willed it all into being. Her son was eight, her daughter six. Her husband was a husband. What else could you expect? You couldn’t pick and choose your problems. They were ordinary too, no matter how exquisitely they pained you.
You had to make your peace with ordinary, since it was most people most of the time. Nothing more ordinary than this oversized temple of food, its well-engineered lighting and whispering air and all the buy-me colors, and her grocery list, now getting grubby around the edges. The apple aisle was right behind her but she was done with spacing out in front of produce displays. She selected the shredded carrots, and some red and green peppers that she might be able to hide in tacos, and then she backtracked to the liquor section and picked up a bottle of the Fran- gelico that she liked and her husband didn’t. Then it depressed her that she was attempting the consumer cure for whatever ailed her, not to mention the expense, not to mention, hello, alcohol, and she put the bottle back.
All right, enough, Jane told herself, her corrective for useless, fanciful
thoughts, summoning up this droll self-awareness, see how amusing I am being, speaking to myself as if I were my own misbehaving child. But the charm was not working. I will not be able to go on. I will not be able to do and say all the things that are expected of me, minute by minute by day by day, with no end to it. I will fall down and not get up again. I will open my mouth and black croaking noises will come out.
As if the force of these thoughts had literally pulled her head around, she found herself staring up at the ceiling of the store, which she could not remember ever looking at with any particular attention, and now she was surprised to find it so large and vaulted, equipped with all sorts of trusses and grids and catwalks and spotlights and rigging, like some vast, mechanical sky.
Bonnie couldn’t tell which kind of olives Jane meant, since there were a couple of different brands, and she herself didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about olives. She took both bottles back with her so Jane could suit herself. And make a particular kind of face at the inferior olives, as if, how could anyone imagine her taking such a deficient product home? The Jane standards were unforgiving and mysterious, and Bonnie had given up trying to fathom them. Jane cut out recipes from magazines and went through phases when she tried to get her family to eat mashed root veg- etables or grains popular at the time of the Pharaohs, which usually ended with the kids pitching a fit and getting cereal for dinner instead.
Bonnie had to admit, she herself wasn’t much of a cook. Her refrig- erator was usually full of hinged styrofoam boxes, the remnants of differ- ent meals out. Once in a while she roasted a chicken with lemon and rosemary, her one foolproof recipe. Patrick was such a shit. And she was so screwed.
She’d had her reasons for Patrick, the usual ones, having to do with lonesomeness and boredom and good old sex. And some less usual ones, like not wanting to give the impression of being so stupidly available, just hanging around and waiting for the next time.
Not that there was going to be a next time, except you never really knew that, did you. In spite of all the promises and good intentions. You set yourself up for the endless possibilities of next time.
Surely he knew about Patrick by now. Let him wonder what she was up to. If he ever did such a thing as wonder about her. She was such a total fucked up mess.
You did not want to believe that you were a terrible person, and on the one hand you could list your virtues: kind to animals and those in need, good sense of humor—did that count?—positive energy, hard worker, etc. etc. But the other hand was a big smashing fist.
Bonnie shook her head loose from her crummy whiny downer fest and looked around to see if anybody was watching her, as if her forehead was a billboard advertising stupidity and shame. But no one was paying any attention to her. They milled around, dazed and unhungry, shuffling their coupons. Whatever else she was, whatever else she’d done, at least she wasn’t somebody who thought that pricing value packs of chicken parts was entertainment.
She started back with the olives. Sometimes you needed to take stock. Reassess. Do inventory. It was never too late. People did it all the time. Got over their addictions, left (or joined) cults, rebuilt their credit, and so on, and she could do that too. And although she had not been thinking about the superficial stuff, the appearance stuff—more like, the milk bot- tles representing souls in the Catholic religion classes, with the milk gone black and foul from various venial and mortal sins—she caught a glimpse of herself in a display mirror that stopped her cold.
What had she been thinking? Her hair looked like ass. She’d gone red this last time, a considered, middle-of-the-road red, but it had faded to a pinky carrot color and her part showed gray. There was lint on her jacket and her shirt gapped open where it pulled across her boobs, a sloppy look she hated. It was one of her favorite shirts, black, western style, with an embroidered yoke and pearl snaps. She wore it because she liked the idea of being a cowgirl, in a humorous, jokey way. And now she couldn’t wear it anymore, because it made her look like, like, she tended bar in a bowling alley or something.
Her makeup had been just fine when she’d put it on. Or had it really? Her eyeliner was sinister, reptilian. Thank god the mirror wasn’t full length, or she would have seen what was wrong with the rest of her.
Bonnie headed to the cosmetics shelves, looking for first aid. Not that she could do anything about the hair except buy a hat. Not that she wanted to meet Jane at the checkout lane with a box of hair dye in her hand, an admission of vanity gone wrong. She got out her compact and smudged some of the eyeliner so it looked a little less like pavement strip- ing. Found a tester for some solid perfume and rubbed it on her wrists. It smelled like vanilla. Somebody in products marketing had decided that everyone should smell like vanilla.
Maybe she should start wearing plaid skirts and cashmere sweaters, get her hair done in a country club bob, wear little gold knots in her ears instead of gypsy chandeliers. Clean up her act, literally.
Would that help? All this while she’d carried on like she was some kind of female pirate, as if she was allowed her excesses because she was a creature of tempestuous moods and passions and sensibilities, like an opera diva or an artist. Except she was not an artist. Had never wanted to be or tried to be....
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