NEW YORK — Most chick lit is so saccharine that even the most hardy “Sex and the City” viewer can barely wade through the infinite flow of titles about twenty- and thirtysomething girls in public relations/bartending/fashion jobs that glut bookstore shelves. Not so with the acid-tongued novel “The Booster” (Atria Books), author Jennifer Solow’s debut effort that came out this month.
For one thing, Solow’s main character, Jillian, has real problems: She gets fired from her advertising job, does drugs, breaks up with her boyfriend and becomes involved in an international shoplifting ring. Her fall from grace isn’t pretty to watch, nor is she even that likeable, but it makes for fun reading — especially for anyone who’s sick of tomes with pastel book jackets.
Indeed, Solow, a former advertising art director, used the king of grit — good friend Terry Richardson — to shoot her own dark cover. His author photos of her, styled by Madonna’s stylist Arriane Phillips, are even more raunchy: They show Solow wandering the streets in her underwear, stuffing a hot dog in her mouth, for one.
Solow did intense research on shoplifting to create the motley crew of high-fashion thieves she depicts in the book. “These rings actually exist,” she explains, speaking by phone from her Mill Valley, Calif., home. “They are highly organized, and they consist of ‘boosters’ — hence the title — and ‘mules,’ and counter-surveillance and secret hand signals. They have training centers and secret languages.” She also did hours of interviews with members of CASA — Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous [sic]. “This is not just poor people going to Target and stealing batteries, these are like sports-star wives going to Saks and taking Gucci,” the author says.
Solow herself is guilty of a little petty theft, but only as a young girl. “When we were little, it was an exciting way to get trinkets,” the Pittsburgh native remembers. It was certainly not compulsive shoplifting.”
What Solow does share in common with her protagonist, however, is thrill-seeking. To take on writing full time, she abandoned her cushy job as the head of ad company Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners’ West Coast offices, where she helped create such major campaigns as the omnipresent Snapple Lady spots, and collaborated with legends like Richard Avedon, Polly Mellon and Spike Jonze. “I left my safe, big-money job to become a full-time bohemian writer. It’s scary, but every word in that book is mine. If it sucks, then it’s my fault,” she laughs.
This story first appeared in the April 17, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s already ignited a bit of controversy with a character she freely admits is based on one-time boss Donny Deutsch. “I always thought he was a great character study,” she purports. “He was obnoxious and gross and all that stuff, but in the end it’s not disrespectful.”
She’s no stranger to stirring things up, however, even in her own town, a “white, WASPy wonderland,” as she puts it. “I’m not your average Mill Valley mommy. I’m a pole-dancing, wig-wearing, karate-practicing mommy.”
In fact, her next book might be cause for even more neighborhood chatter. “It’s all about sex in the suburbs,” Solow says. “I’ll never eat lunch in this town again.”