The Booster: A Novel

The Booster: A Novel

3.5 6
by Jennifer Solow

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Jillian Siegel is living the quintessential Manhattan life: great clothes, fabulous boyfriend, a job at the hottest ad agency in town. But what nobody knows is that this twenty-nine-year-old has a dark little secret -- one that involves stuffing her oversize Gucci handbag with high-priced designer clothes and leaving the store without paying.

There was once…  See more details below


Jillian Siegel is living the quintessential Manhattan life: great clothes, fabulous boyfriend, a job at the hottest ad agency in town. But what nobody knows is that this twenty-nine-year-old has a dark little secret -- one that involves stuffing her oversize Gucci handbag with high-priced designer clothes and leaving the store without paying.

There was once a time when Jillian didn't need to shop (much less steal) to feel whole. But that was long ago -- when her beloved uncle Bingo still owned Loevner's, the elegant Upper East Side department store. When, as a little girl, she spent hours listening to the wisdom of the perfume counter ladies and modeling party dresses for her uncle's impish partner, Alain; when she danced beneath Loevner's magnificent chandelier, found solace in the secret passageways behind its grand facade, and when her mother's prolonged absences were easily forgotten with a new camel-hair coat or a fresh pair of Mary Janes.

And then one day it was all gone. The department store family, the enchanted world, the endless abundance -- pulled out from under her by her jet-setting mother, Lois; by the father she never knew; by the death of Alain, a cherished friend and confidant; and by the man with two first names who orchestrated the corporate takeover of her family's venerable sanctuary.

Now, years later, Jillian cannot seem to make things right no matter how many Chloé blouses come home in her pocketbook. Her "perfect" life is loosely held together with half milligrams of Ativan and stolen cashmere scarves. It's only a matter of time until everything crumbles.

Penned by one of advertising's most influential and provocative writers, this highly anticipated debut is packed with vibrant characters, bristling dialogue, and the rich detail of the author's real-life research into the clandestine world of shoplifting rings. The Booster is a uniquely stylish, deftly woven story about discovering one's true self in the most unexpected of places.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Solow's spectacular debut sounds a warning to fashionista shopaholics while providing a healing catharsis that anyone grieving over the loss of a loved one can appreciate. "It is mine. It is mine. It is mine" is the mantra Jillian Siegel repeats before any major shoplifting expedition, believing her hobby is not a crime but her "birthright." The Upper East Sider's addiction to larceny increases after she loses her ad agency job just before the agency acquires the coveted Loevner's department store account. Loevner's had once been owned by Jillian's dying uncle Bingo, a beloved parental figure. As a little girl in bunny fur, Jillian had appeared in the original ad that defined Loevner's upscale glamour. After Shelly, a needy young drifter whom Jillian meets in jail in the wake of a tourist-trap incident, introduces Jillian into a Peruvian shoplifting ring, Jillian becomes the ring's star American booster. "Designer clothes are like armor" providing "protection from the masses," Jillian thinks, but by the thrilling wind-up, Solow, an ad agency veteran, has ripped the tags off this assumption, forcing Jillian to face what compels her to steal. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Jillian Siegel likes to shoplift at least once a day.

It is not a crime as she sees it; it is her birthright.

Her spoils needn't be as tall as a Louboutin boot or as wide as an Hermès scarf; often the tiniest trifle will do. Just the act of closing a fist and releasing it again into a pocket, feeling the blush of her cheek as the fresh treasure is absorbed, knowing the thing, the coveted thing, is now owned and cherished, is enough.

In general, she is a shopper. Deliberate colors like tobacco and pale lavender make her happy. She runs her finger along the folds, occasionally selecting one above the rest for more generous attention: a close hold, a caress on the cheek, a fondling of the nub, a sizing up in the mirror.

Stores are restful, tidy places for her. Six or seven items placed on an up-lit counter, quiet and articulate, each one folded then folded again infinitely throughout the day by handsome women in black uniform; a measured array of consecrated goods placed precisely so as not to touch one another. The faintest smells of cement and coffee beans at Comme des Garçons, the smoky wood planks and jasmine blossoms hovering in the air at Azzedine Alaia, or the patent leather, bubblegum smell at Betsey Johnson replenish the soul.

To make an acquisition, by purse or pocket, is to bring home the experience.

There was once a time when Jillian did not need to shop, much less steal, to get her fix. When fine camel-hair coats, fluffy fur muffs, and new Mary Janes just appeared at the foot of her bed. When her wardrobe, like that of a princess, bloomed perpetually -- a rainbow of new delights on hangers she wasn't even big enough to reach. This endless bounty was not, for her, simply a material one; it was the backdrop of an enchanted world. One filled with magic -- the true kind of magic that animates Christmas windows, makes the sun sparkle through the clouds, and, on some mornings, makes entire stretches of Park Avenue smell like hot chocolate.

But then one day, as if by some foul patch of weather, the wind came in and blew it all away -- the sun and the moon and the joy that once made everything bright.

And now, a thousand pages later, these provisions, the mislaid pieces of her heart, the silky squares of material, the soft pleats of embroidered cloth, are scattered throughout the universe, longing to be amassed again by their rightful owner.

It is not a crime as she sees it; it is the eternal job of a patient practitioner.

Certainly once a day is not too much.


"I don't understand why you don't come, Jill." Alex Wald is yelling loud enough from the loft bedroom upstairs for Jillian to hear him clearly in the bathroom below. "Ever."

"Have you seen my Ativan?" Jillian is rushing through her apartment opening things and closing them again. Her bare, pedicured feet shuffle across the wood floor of her 940-square-foot "loftlike" apartment on Twelfth Street. "There was that small bottle in the medicine cabinet with a peeling label and then the other one in the zipper thingy in my pocketbook." The floor is like the rest of the apartment, decent enough, big enough, good enough for now. It's a fine holding spot until she can get a real apartment -- at least 1,500 square feet -- a place where she could one day serve dinner parties or keep fluffy guest towels in a spare closet.

How many times can two people have the same conversation, she wonders as she rushes from the closet to the bathroom and back again. It's not like coming is the easiest thing in the world to do; it's not as if you can just order it up, like a dry Ketel One martini with extra olives, and poof, there it is, perfectly chilled and waiting for you to take a sip.

Jillian is wearing only a pair of Cosabella thong underwear. A spot of Alex's fresh ejaculate wets the middle of the sixteen-dollar sliver of material. It's just the thing she was worried about when he woke her up early, pressing his hard-on into the middle of her back. Not that she doesn't love to feel the weight of him rolling on top of her, she does -- the fleeting moment of safety beneath him, the salty taste of his shoulder as her mouth lingers there, the way his body provides sanctuary for hers, if only for a second. She does love all that, it's just that she doesn't love all that less than seventy-seven minutes before the biggest presentation of her life.

"I know I have another Ativan." She holds her breasts, one in each hand like beanbags, as she darts from room to room.

"I am not the keeper of the pharmaceuticals, Jill." Alex rolls back underneath the comforter -- a thousand-thread count, extra primaloft Vermont goose down -- the softest she could find at Bed Bath & Beyond on Sixth.

"Shit." Jillian opens the empty prescription bottle from the side pocket of her purse. "Shit. Great. Perfect."

"You don't need a tranquilizer. You'll do great today, Bubb."

"Goddamn it." Jillian pulls the sticky cotton material out from its crevice. "I can't even wear this underwear now." She wiggles her thong down to the floor, hurls it in the direction of the laundry basket, and dashes into her closet: a second bedroom in her apartment converted with shelves, bins, and wire racks.

"You don't even want me to make you come, Jilly. I mean, I think most girls would at least want to."

She marches up the spiral staircase to the bedroom clutching a linen shirt underneath her armpit and pointing a toothbrush with the other hand. "Yogis don't have orgasms, Alex. They save up their chi." Jillian's never told him that she hasn't had an actual orgasm with another person in the room, unless you count Sharon Levy at Timberwood sleepover camp, and she's never told him that she really does want to, that she really does try to get there -- she tries to reach the point of no return, but then it just all falls completely apart.

"You're not a yogi." Alex reaches out for her hand and nibbles on her fingertips. His eyes are clear and sweet, and the sunburn he got two weeks ago in South America has faded to a soft patina. "And you have enough chi to choke a horse."

"This isn't a problem for you because you don't actually have to go to work today and make the presentation of your life -- a presentation to people who just stare at you because they haven't had their double espresso yet and they can't actually propel messages from one side of their brain to the other...."

"Oh yeah. My job is really easy."

"And I have absolutely nothing to wear and now I need to stop at McKay's." Jillian's nerve endings feel as if they're about to burst. Alex should know this about her by now.

"You say that like it's my fault you're out of Ativan. Like it's always my fault." Alex puts a pillow over his head and presses down hard. "You're the pill popper." His words are muffled through nineteen ounces of Vermont goose feathers.

"I'm not a pill popper." Jillian shoves the toothbrush into her mouth and brushes. She talks through it. "I have a prescription for exactly eight pills. Eight one-half-milligram pills last me, I don't know, months!" The toothpaste begins to foam around her mouth. "I would think a pill popper would need more than eight pills."

"Why don't you wear that black suit with the bow hickeys on the sides?" Alex squeezes along the shaft of his penis, pushing the remainder of semen out into a droplet at the tip. He rubs the white ball into his chest and turns over toward the pillow.

"Jesus. That's my bed!"

Some things should just be done in private, Jillian thinks, with a tissue, or at least when no one else is staring right at them preparing for a big presentation. Alex, she recalls, will pee off the side of a dive boat. He knows nothing of personal boundaries. "Those are my good sheets."

She races back down the tight spiral staircase into the bathroom and spits into the sink. "Plus the black suit makes me look like an anesthesiologist."

"Just wear what makes you comfortable."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Jillian wonders why she's even asking him -- Alex buys everything from the REI catalog. Not that he doesn't look great in his old Patagonias and Carhartts; he always looks great in an I-don't-care-how-I-look kind of way. The worn cotton of his collar and the hole in the armpit of his old cashmere sweater always make her heart skip a beat. Sometimes Jillian wishes she could be like him -- a carefree, hole-in-the-armpit photographer, roaming the wild one week a month with only stubborn sherpas to contend with and not big presentations to caffeine-deprived bosses.

Jillian rifles through her hangers, pulling things off one by one: the patent leather vest is too much of a dominatrix thing; the Donna Karan suit is trying too hard; the gray pinstriped vest and skirt are okay, if she were going to a meeting at Goldman Sachs instead of an advertising agency, the floral Liberty button-down looks like it was an impulse purchase from the Harrods shop at Heathrow Airport (which it was), and the black Daryl K is too down-market.

"And besides, orgasms are overrated," she yells back from downstairs as she zips up a beige suede skirt along her hip. "I don't need to have an orgasm to enjoy myself. I just really, really like, you know, the fuck itself." The beige skirt seems too short. Dorkish even. She remembers when it was her favorite thing -- the Miss Sixty skirt -- completely over now. "You generally seem to be fine with that."

Finally, after seventeen minutes and a floor strewn with the discards of her closet, Jillian settles on the Armani pinstriped pleated pants, slim at the waist, wider at the ankle. It's an elegant pant that elongates the leg, making it appear as if the line goes on forever. These minuscule vertical lines that look golden from just a foot away add butter and warmth to the otherwise crisp angle. She tops the pant with the white Vandevorst work shirt -- a classic enough garment with long French cuffs and a well-cut neckline but a surprisingly improper peekaboo slit down the back between the shoulder blades. A sliver of skin shows through as the capricious twists and turns of the day unfold. And finishing the whole thing off, at the base of the sweeping leg, a small triangle of maroon leather emerges, the tidy toe of a fierce Louboutin high heel -- neither as vulnerable as a sandal nor as relentless as a boot. The pointy glimpse of color and texture is the ideal juxtaposition to the pinstripes and white cotton -- a classic combo. The result, Jillian thinks, is a kind of masculine-feminine look, perfect for her height, appropriate for the occasion, mature, a touch groovy without being overtly so, smart, tasteful, and pulled together.

She can present well in this outfit. She is sure of it.

She walks back up the staircase balancing on the balls of her feet, careful not to put too much weight on her spiny heels. "Does this look okay?" She hesitantly stands in front of the bed.

"You look wonderful, Jilly. Like a double espresso."

Jillian exhales. For as little as Alex knows about clothes, his opinion can always make or break her confidence.

He sits up and moves away from her just an inch. "How about a memory picture?"

Jillian puts both hands on her hips and smiles widely. "Cheese."

Camera-less, he holds his hands up in a square in front of his face and blinks both eyes at her. He has a million of these shots of Jillian: standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, posing beside a pug in the park, trying on wigs at Patricia Field's, buying bialys at Kossar's. He taps his temple with his finger. "Good one." Alex pulls her into bed with him and kisses her head.

"What's on your agenda this morning?" Jillian relaxes into his arms for the moment.

"My agenda, my beautiful girl" -- he carefully smoothes down her eyebrows -- "is that I need to go to B&H and get a new adapter ring for the camera. Mine broke in Honduras."

Jillian looks at her watch. "You gotta be out by nine, though." She pulls herself up and straightens her shirt. "Yolanda's coming -- thank God."

"Yolanda can make the bed with me in it." Alex curls around the pillow. "It's a cruel world out there, Siegel. I'm staying right here."

"Please don't freak out Yolanda. You know her position on the whole premarital relations thing."

"She's just jealous."

Jillian leans over and inhales his puppy dog breath and cool laundry smells. "I'll miss you too tonight, Allie."

"Tell your mother my ass is still recovering from the last time I saw her."

"Lois loves to squeeze. What can I say?" She reaches out for a kiss, one that doesn't disturb lipstick, or makeup, or the general look whatsoever. Alex manages to press his lips against hers anyway.

"And tell them I think you're the greatest, smartest, cutest associate creative director in New York City. With the nicest onion this side of Fourteenth." Alex grabs a chunk of her rear end.

"I will."

"Good luck." Alex brushes her hair back with his hands. "I'll see you after the deed is done."

"Thanks, Bubb."

"Sure, Bubb."

"I love you."

"I love you too."

Jillian walks into the foyer of McKay's Drugs at precisely eight thirty-one A.M. She still has twenty-nine minutes, which should be plenty: ten minutes of waiting and nineteen for the calming effect of the pill to take hold. She picks up a small tube of Hurley's Grapefruit & Mint lip balm on the way to the pharmacy in the back. Hurley's has great packaging, and the lip balm with its tasteful olive and saffron encasement is no exception. Her heart quickens at the luscious sight of it. Instinctively she pulls off the cap and smooths a layer of the tender ointment across her lips. The sweet cooling oils seep in through her skin, adding flavor to her tongue and chilling her skin. Goose bumps emerge down her arms the way they always do when she holds a dear prize like this in her palm.

It is mine. It is mine. It is mine. She is careful to remember the mantra.

She envelops the lip balm entirely in her hand and slips it into her suit pocket. It is a relief just to know it is there now -- that it is hers forever.

She counts out the timing as she waits in line; the numbers alone impart a sense of calm: if the prescription gets filled in less than thirteen minutes, she'll have enough time to take a half a milligram under her tongue, stride quickly up Park while the pill melts into her bloodstream, and still be in Billy Baum's office, lightly sedated, with one minute to spare. The timing is good.

Absentmindedly she rubs along the length of her nose, gripping the bridge between her thumb and forefinger. She draws down along the tip, then makes the journey over the hook, pulling it up just a bit and back down again. It is not so tall as a mountain or as wide as a bus -- but it is there and, as some have commented, often gets there before she does.

From the cheekbones up she could be Irish or Italian or even Spanish, but the true origin of her face -- part Polish, part Russian, part Czech, and part German -- is betrayed by this protuberance. Larger and more obtrusive than one would expect on such a refined landscape, the thing has been left in its natural state despite four consultations with Park Avenue specialist Dr. Adam Blumenthal. Jillian always believed that keeping this particular blemish intact set her apart from her mother, so she held on to it like a talisman over the years.

"I understand why men would want to look at you, darling." Lois Siegel said to her daughter Jillian when she just was fourteen. "You're a beautiful girl. And Lord knows you're growing bosoms." Jillian looked down at the twin volcanoes waiting to erupt. "It was cute when you were younger, but, let's face it, no man is going to want to reproduce with that nose."

Lois Siegel walked her daughter over to the mirror. "It's not painful at all; you're asleep the whole time. And then you wake up and it's all perfect. Look at me." Lois kissed her daughter gently on the cheek.

The pharmacy line is short, only four people ahead of her, so Jillian sits in the chair patiently waiting for her number to be announced and going over the presentation in her head. She's got to remember not to talk too fast. She always talks too fast when she presents. It's like some sort of time warp thing happens that causes the words to tumble from her mouth full speed ahead and she can't remember how the sentence she started was supposed to end so she just ends it in an arbitrary way that makes no sense whatsoever and people look at her like they wish it was time to check their cell phone messages or order their Cubano sandwiches from the Coffee Shop.

"Thirty-eight," yells the girl behind the counter -- a pregnant girl named MELVA, with blatant hair extensions, an overly large nose stud, and a flat red smock covering her pendulous breasts.

It's eight forty-eight, and Melva has the bottle in hand.

Jillian writes her initials on the line, officially refusing the consultation from the pharmacist, and signs her name on the credit card slip -- a grand swirling J, a cascading S, and barely anything recognizable in between. She reaches out for the prescription.

"I can't read that," Melva broadcasts, clutching Jillian's medication away and dangling her mouth open, revealing to God and the world the wad of purple gum perched between her teeth and tongue. "I'm gonna need to see your license."

"I come in here all the time. You can't read that?" She fumbles through her pocketbook and thrusts her arm elbow deep into its depths. Oy. This thing is such a mess. Maybe one of those little baguette pocketbooks would stay neater. Maybe pink suede. "Why can't you read that?"

"I'm gonna need to see your license."

"Shit." The contents of her behemoth bag tumble onto the counter like a cornucopia of stolen secrets: bitter flecks of tobacco; travel-size hair gel; a free sample of perfume inside a little card; tea tree oil breath drops; a swollen, open tampon; a bursting Filofax; and a bunched up pair of black thigh highs flood the surface in front of Melva's bulging belly. "Goddamn it." A MAC eye shadow, Patina Frost, falls to the floor and cracks into a thousand tiny crystals. "Shit."

Jillian looks back at the growing line behind her. A man with a coiffed mustache rocks back and forth and audibly exhales. One woman with a china doll haircut and red reading glasses fans herself with a magazine subscription card. Melva waits sucking gum bubbles into her mouth and popping them. Jillian works to keep her body cool and undisturbed (relaxed eyes, arched eyebrow, calm slouch) despite her mounting angst. Without at least eight minutes for the Ativan to kick in, the whole morning will be ruined. She could also use a mint.

And a new Patina Frost.

And a pink suede baguette pocketbook.

"Here. Here it is. I found it." She pulls out the license from the side pocket, the place where she usually keeps it but never looks. "It was right here," she curls her hair behind her ear and shrugs her shoulders to the group. They stare blankly at her. "It's a really big purse," she adds.

Jillian hands it over to Melva, who glances at it briefly and deems it accurate enough to turn over the booty. Jillian opens the bottle and gobbles down the pill right there at the counter. Nibbles it in half, then works both halves under her tongue, finding solace in the saccharin sweetness of the melting pieces. And, as she only has six minutes to make it to Billy's office, she pops in a second dose. Six minutes will definitely be enough to dissolve a full milligram of Ativan. Having the peak-effects kick in midmeeting, after all the small talk is out of the way, might actually be perfect timing.

"Thank you for shopping at McKay's." Melva pops another bubble.

Copyright © 2006 by Jennifer Solow

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The Booster 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
MAKNY More than 1 year ago
I can't believe I actually finished it! What a ridiculous story!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this during the after-Christmas sale and I'm happy it was a bargain book. The cover sounded interesting and the story started out good. However, it got real slow in the middle but picked up nicely towards the end. A definite one-time read. --K--
FlaChick More than 1 year ago
This is another bargain book I picked up. Read the cover and it seemed interesting. Boy, was it! Not the best book I've ever read but it was good. The characters were likeable and interesting. The story was clever but odd. Overall the book was good but lost me in the middle when it seemed to drag on and go nowhere. The author could have left out some of the fluff and it would have been a better read.
K46164 More than 1 year ago
This was definitely a different subject of any book that I have read. At the same time, it was interesting. The characters are very real feeling...Good plot with lots of twists and turns... The romantic relationship in the book was definitely predictable. overall, a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jennifer Solow's, 'The Booster', an extraordinarily voguish novel that creates a skillfully tied story about discerning one's true nature when put in the most peculiar places. Jillian Siegal, an affluent advertising executive, and Shelly, a small-time crook in jail, are the story's main characters, with their 'boosting' motto 'It Is Mine.' Meeting in jail, the friendship turns to teacher, Jillian, and pupil, Shelly as members of a notourious shoplifting gang. Only a change of heart stops Jillian from serving time! Ms. Solow's distinct style of characterization, the prickly dialogue, and the snazzy detail of the author's groundwork into the fraudulent world of shoplifting makes her first work a real success! I highly recommend this book as being an 'old man', different is good!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amusing and very clever, to make shoplifting a glamorus thing seems hard to do, but Solow makes it possible. I thought this book was funny and a great read for every shopper out there who can't quite afford what their buying.