Known for her “hilarious and spot-on”* memoirs I’ve Still Got It…I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It and If It Was Easy, They’d Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon, Jenna McCarthy turns her comedic talents to fiction with a novel about picking yourself up out of the gutter when life kicks you to the curb…
“I don’t love you anymore.”
For Charlotte Crawford, the worst part about being dumped after twenty years of marriage is that her husband, Jack, doesn’t want another woman; he just doesn’t want her.
Forty-two and clueless, Charlotte is a fish out of water in a dating pool teeming with losers. Just when she thinks she’s finally put her failed marriage behind her, it comes back to bite her in the ass…hard. Without warning, Charlotte finds herself staring down the barrel of a future she wouldn’t (she would totally) wish on her worst enemy.
Engaging, fearless, and relentlessly funny, Pretty Much Screwed is a story of love, loss, friendship, forgiveness, turtledoves, taxidermy, and one hilariously ill-placed tick.
*Celia Rivenbark, New York Times Bestselling Author
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Jenna McCarthy is the internationally published writer of I’ve Still Got It I Just Can’t Remember Where I Put It, If It Was Easy, They'd Call the Whole Damn Thing a Honeymoon, and The Parent Trip, former radio personality, and recovering leopard-print addict. She lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, two daughters, and lots of dog and cat hair.
Read an Excerpt
“Lizzy, hang on, you’ve got to slow down,” Charlotte said. “All I heard was ‘fucking horse’ and something about thirteen dollars an hour.” She’d shouted that last bit into the phone. She knew that yelling probably wasn’t the best way to handle a hysterical person, but Charlotte Crawford had never really been good in an emotional crisis.
“Fucking whore, not horse. Amber. He’s been having sex with her for a year and a half. While I was paying her! In my house, Charlotte . . . in my house,” Lizzy wailed, and Charlotte struggled to make sense of her friend’s frenetic rant.
“Adam?” Charlotte asked. It was a stupid question. It’s not like Lizzy would be freaking out if she discovered her babysitter was having sex with the mailman or the pool guy. Of course Lizzy was talking about her husband.
“Yes, Adam! He says he loves her—she’s a child!—and he wants a divorce. He’s leaving me, Charlotte. He’s leaving me for that whore Amber, the one we trusted to watch our kids and took to Italy with us on vacation. How could I be so fucking stupid?”
That Whore Amber, which is how they would refer to her for the rest of ever, had been babysitting Lizzy and Adam’s kids since she was fifteen. Even though Lizzy’s daughter Coco was fourteen now herself, they’d kept That Whore Amber around to help take care of the two younger boys. Apparently, they weren’t all she was taking care of.
“I held her hand while they put her dog to sleep!” Lizzy was shouting now, too. “I bought her a goddamned Gucci wallet. I paid for her to take Italian lessons. Was he having sex with her in Italy, too? While I was out buying pottery for his mother and he was supposedly working? That whore. That asshole. Oh my God, this isn’t happening. Tell me it isn’t happening.”
Of course it wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. First of all, Charlotte’s best friend Lizzy was the most beautiful human being she had ever met. And not just in the inside-out, whole-person sense, even though Lizzy was generous and loyal and funny and volunteered all over the place and made her own homemade ravioli. Lizzy was also physically gorgeous. Naturally, and—if all jealousy were put aside—unassumingly gorgeous. And on top of the fact that Lizzy had actually been mistaken for Megan Fox on more than one occasion and had the metabolism of a thirteen-year-old boy with a tapeworm, she and Adam as a couple had it all. The beautiful, showcase home. The smart, athletic, genetically gifted kids. The award-winning purebred golden retriever wagging his tail just inside the crisply painted white picket fence. Who would throw all of that away? Who would throw Lizzy away? It just didn’t make sense.
“What a prick.” Charlotte couldn’t think of anything else to say. It’ll all work out? You’re better off without him? You’ll get through this? You’re still stunning; you’ll have men crawling all over you in five minutes? While all of that was doubtless true, Charlotte was pretty sure the only thing she’d want to hear if she were in a situation like this was what a prick.
“I’m getting a divorce,” Lizzy said, her words dripping with disbelief. “Me. I’m going to be one of those horrible, desperate cougars who wears padded push-up bras under see-through leopard-print blouses and goes out trolling bars every night. No. No, I won’t, because I hate push-up bras and animal prints and I don’t ever want another man and I don’t need another man and oh Charlotte, what am I going to do?”
What could her friend do? Nothing, that was what. Nothing besides try not to go crazy or postal or both while watching some bitch move into her house and take over her life like she was the newest Darrin on Bewitched.
“No shit” was Jack’s response when Charlotte told him about Lizzy and Adam that night. Then he settled himself into bed and switched on the TV as if that was all that needed to be said.
Charlotte had finally gotten the house picked up and the laundry folded and the kids into bed, and she’d been dying to talk to him about it all day. She needed to process the whole thing, which still seemed like a movie or a bad dream. Jack didn’t look as surprised or upset as she’d wanted or expected him to, which made her want to claw his eyes out.
“‘No shit’?” Charlotte said, grabbing the remote from his hand and flipping the TV off. “That’s it? Lizzy is my best friend in the world! This is major! A family is being destroyed here. A family we care about—or at least I care about them. Is that really all you have to say?”
“Well, yeah,” Jack said. “I mean, that and who’d screw around on Lizzy?”
Since that had practically been her own first thought, Charlotte was surprised at how much Jack’s comment infuriated her.
“So you’re saying it would be fine—or at least understandable—for a married guy to be fucking the twenty-year-old babysitter if his wife didn’t look like Lizzy?” Charlotte spat at her husband.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I was saying,” Jack said, flipping back the freshly pressed Jonathan Adler duvet and grabbing his empty water glass. Charlotte sat on the bed and watched him stalk naked across the room to the bathroom. For probably the millionth time, she marveled at her husband’s utter lack of self-consciousness. She never walked around naked, not ever, not even to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Jack had no such hang-ups. He’d strut to the kitchen in the altogether, grab the orange juice from the fridge and drink it straight from the carton, standing right there in the door, illuminated like a gallery sculpture in the refrigerator’s spotlight. She would bet that he didn’t even bother to suck in his stomach when he caught her staring—not that he needed to.
Jack marched back into the room with a fresh glass of water, set it roughly on his nightstand and crawled back into bed, scrunching the duvet extra hard when he did, Charlotte was sure.
“Sorry,” she said now, shaking. She didn’t really mean it but she didn’t want to fight; she wanted to dissect and analyze what was happening to her friend. She needed to wrap her brain around it, make sense of it and tuck it neatly away on a shelf, like the puzzles she used to put together as a kid and then preserve with thick layers of craft glue so she’d never have to go through the trouble of doing them ever again. “I think I’m in shock,” Charlotte added. “The truth is I thought the exact same thing. Lizzy! Loyal, gorgeous, perfectly perfect Lizzy. It’s just crazy.”
All she wanted was for Jack to agree with her, to tell her that of course it was crazy, and then to assure her it would never, ever happen to her. She wouldn’t mind a warm hug and a “This is probably really hard for you, too,” if anybody was asking.
“The babysitter must be ridiculously hot,” Jack said.
“Really? You think so?” Charlotte yelled, enraged all over again. “She can’t be as hot as Lizzy and she’s not the mother of his children and he didn’t swear in front of her family and God and all of their friends that he would love her forever so who cares what she looks like? She’s a filthy whore and a hideous hag as far as I’m concerned. And you’re just an asshole.”
“And you married me,” Jack said, reaching for the remote.
“I guess that makes me an asshole, too,” Charlotte huffed, storming from the room.
• • •
Charlotte was stretched out on the white leather lounger, a furry zebra throw draped across her legs. The tranquil melody of a pan flute mingled with the sounds of gentle waves crashing on a shore somewhere above her. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and tried to relax.
“Holy mother of God, that hurt like a sonofabitch,” she cried as Kelly plunged a needle deep into Charlotte’s skin. “Are you sure you didn’t just inject battery acid into my face?”
“Did you use the numbing cream I gave you?” Kelly asked, sliding the needle into Charlotte’s forehead again. Charlotte gasped in pain.
“OUCH! And yes, I did,” Charlotte told her. “Maybe it was expired or something.”
“Nope, it was a brand-new batch. When did you put it on? It really needs a good ninety minutes to get the full effect. Frown for me. Frown, frown, frown. Good. This one’s a little bitch, so breathe.” Searing pain ripped through Charlotte’s face.
“Be glad you live in Florida,” Kelly added. “If you lived out west where there’s no humidity at all, I’d have to use twice as much.”
“Christ, Kelly. I think you just hit a vein. Or my brain. And the jar said thirty minutes.” This was only Charlotte’s second time getting Botox, and she’d forgotten how awful it was. When she made the appointment (which might have been the same day she’d found out about Adam and That Whore Amber, but who was keeping track?), she’d mentioned being a little anxious about the pain. Kelly had suggested she swing by for some lidocaine lotion beforehand so she could be good and numb for her appointment. “Makes all the difference,” she’d said. If you use it correctly, Charlotte thought now.
“Do you want to hang out for another hour and let it sink in? You can read some magazines and I’ll see a few other clients and then squeeze you back in?” Kelly’s daughter Kaitlin had played soccer with Charlotte’s daughter Jilli for years, so there was an easy familiarity there.
Charlotte was sure that lots of the ladies who lined up to have Kelly fill their nasolabial folds and freeze their foreheads and jab them in the ass with vitamin B-12 (it wasn’t for weight loss; it gave them energy, they swore) had nothing but time on their hands, but she wasn’t one of them. She had work to do and errands to run and a school volunteer committee meeting to get ready for, and she’d left beds unmade and dishes in the sink just to get here at all. As it was, she’d probably be serving frozen pizza for dinner, a card Charlotte preferred to play only in emergencies. Healthy dinners were important, of course, but at the moment so was not losing your husband to a twenty-year-old whore.
“No, let’s just get this over with,” she told Kelly, squeezing her eyes shut and gritting her teeth. “But I want you to know, I hate you right now.”
“You’re going to love me tomorrow,” Kelly insisted.
• • •
The girls had been meeting monthly for “whine o’clock” for as long as Charlotte could remember, and she could count on one hand how many times Lizzy had been absent. She’d emailed the group at the very last minute saying she was feeling under the weather, but Charlotte knew what was up. Lizzy didn’t have the energy for the grilling that was sure to come. After all, it had been three months since Adam moved out, and her friends would be dying of curiosity: What was it like being alone? Was Lizzy seeing anyone yet? Didn’t she think it was time to get back on the horse? Charlotte could understand not wanting any part of that; she really didn’t blame Lizzy for bailing.
“At least she doesn’t have to worry about getting naked in front of someone new,” Kate said, mindlessly scooping a handful of smoked almonds out of a bowl on the bar. Charlotte was sitting on her free hand to avoid that very move. She shuddered at the thought of the dozens of strange, dirty fingers that had been in there. Plus, one little almond had seven calories. A few reckless handfuls could be disastrous.
“Can you imagine having that body?” Kate continued to muse. “At our ages, after popping out three kids? Jesus. It’s just not fair. But then again, what good did it do her?” She swirled her Cabernet thoughtfully. Kate was a former TV news anchor turned stay-at-home mom with a big personality and an even bigger mouth. Of the four friends, she also was the one edging closest to what some would call plump.
“Exactly. If a guy’s willing to trade in Lizzy for some coed slut, none of us are safe, are we?” Tessa twirled a dark ringlet nervously, hoping one of them would find a loophole in her dangerously irrefutable argument.
Lizzy and Charlotte had been friends the longest, ever since the day they met—could it have been more than twenty-two years ago?—freshman year in college. Charlotte had burst into Lizzy’s dorm room asking to borrow toothpaste because she couldn’t find her own, and they’d been inseparable ever since. When Charlotte had gotten her first job out of school right in Jacksonville, Lizzy had narrowed her own job hunt down to only the local options. They’d been through boyfriends and breakups and pregnancies and promotions together, but divorce was uncharted territory. Kate and Tessa had come later; Charlotte couldn’t even remember in which order. The four women and—until now—their four husbands had taken dozens of beach vacations, seen hundreds of concerts and thrown countless barbecues together. They all had kids roughly the same ages, equally impressive homes, similar cars (in fact, Charlotte and Kate drove the exact same Lexus LX, and Tessa’s husband Simon and Jack owned identical black BMW Gran Turismos) and parallel spending habits. Not that you couldn’t be friends with someone if you dressed in Dior and she shopped at Old Navy, but for things like planning ski trips and dinners out together, it certainly helped to be on roughly the same financial page.
“Nope, we’re pretty much screwed,” Kate agreed. “And can you imagine if Eric left me or Jack left Charlotte or Simon left you, Tessa? We’d never do it. Get naked in front of someone new, I mean. We don’t even like to walk from our lounge chairs to the pool at the tennis club in our swim skirts!” Kate laughed, and Charlotte couldn’t believe her friend actually thought this was funny. She tried to suck in her flabby tummy, but it was no use. She was a married, middle-aged mom; potbellies and cellulite came with the territory. Unless you were Lizzy, of course.
Pondering their shared body hatred, Charlotte was getting more depressed by the second. And also, drunker. That was it; she was going to start going back to the gym this week. Maybe she’d even call that awful personal trainer again and sign up for a series of torture sessions. Yes, that’s exactly what she would do. That much settled, she celebrated her imminent fitness by filling her wineglass all the way to the top.
• • •
“Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?” Jack asked. Charlotte felt a stab of irritation at the question. He stepped out of his suit pants and tossed them into the corner. She yearned to ask him to pick them up and put them in the dry cleaning bag she’d hung inside his closet door, but she didn’t want to argue, so she grudgingly continued straightening her hair. Her shoulder-length locks had once been naturally straight and shiny and caramel-colored, but these days it took a gallon of products and an hour of strong-arming with a flat iron and close to a thousand dollars a year in highlights to achieve the same “naturally” youthful look. Charlotte sighed.
“I don’t really care . . .” she said, trailing off. Why couldn’t he plan a date, just once? Pick the place, call the babysitter—the ugly, old, covered-in-varicose-veins babysitter, preferably—and just take care of it. Why did every single mundane decision and task always fall on her?
“How about Luna?” he suggested, pitching his wrinkled dress shirt in the vicinity of the pants on the floor.
“Ugh,” Charlotte said. “I hate that place.”
“So you actually do care,” Jack said. He shoved an army of hangers to one side of his closet, and the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound made Charlotte wince.
“You know I hate that place,” she said, slamming her straightening iron down on the marble vanity, her voice rising to a yell. “Is that why you picked it? Because you knew I wouldn’t want to go and then you could feel all smug because I’m such a pain in the ass?”
“God, you’re impossible,” Jack said, buttoning up a new shirt. “You said you didn’t care, so I suggested a restaurant. Just pick somewhere. I don’t care where. And when I say that, I actually mean it.”
• • •
Charlotte mindlessly flipped through the book Lizzy had given her. Just in Case: How Happily Married Wives Can (and Probably Should) Prepare for Divorce. She’d hidden it in the very bottom of her desk drawer, beneath a fat stack of legal envelopes, lest Jack stumble on it accidentally and think she had actually purchased the thing herself. She’d tried to tell Lizzy that she really didn’t want or need it, but Lizzy had been adamant.
“Charlotte, I never would have thought I’d need it, either, and I got totally screwed,” Lizzy had insisted. Her divorce had been nearly finalized when she’d given Charlotte the awful book, and the process had been a living hell even from Charlotte’s safe distance. “Did you know that at least in Florida, if you decide to move out of your house immediately when you find out your husband is fucking the babysitter, you’re basically relinquishing your right to alimony? Did you? Because I certainly didn’t. Or that if you use the street address of your home instead of a precise legal description of it in the divorce decree, you can’t refinance or sell the property? Or that if Jack went out and spent a hundred grand that you don’t have, you’d be responsible for half of that debt if he left you tomorrow, even if he’d used it to buy Viagra or sex toys he was using with some slut like That Whore Amber? There’s a story in there about a woman who supported her husband for ten years while he went to medical school. Ten years! She agreed to put off having kids until he got a job, even though she would be thirty-five by that point, which is getting up there in high-risk territory, you know. And then when he finally got his medical degree, guess what? He decided he really didn’t want to practice medicine. No, he wanted to be an artist, even though the guy couldn’t paint his way out of a paper bag. But his poor, stupid wife wanted to be supportive, so she kept working two jobs so this asshole could sit around and watch Bob Ross painting fucking evergreens on YouTube all day. Finally, when her hair was falling out from stress and he announced that he had decided he never wanted to have kids, she filed for divorce. And do you know what happened? She had to pay him alimony! She went to the judge and was like, ‘Let me get this straight. I’m leaving him because I’m sick of supporting his sorry, lazy ass, and my punishment for supporting him for this long is that I get to continue to do it?’ And the answer was YES! Something about him deserving to maintain the standard of living to which he’d become accustomed during the course of the marriage or some bullshit like that. I hope to God you and Jack die happily married in your sleep when you’re ninety, I really do, but I think every married woman on the planet needs to be educated about this stuff. I gave Kate and Tessa copies, too.”
Charlotte had reluctantly taken the book. Now she randomly opened it to a page on safeguarding your physical assets. “Take pictures of every item you own, using the front page of the day’s newspaper as a backdrop, to avoid any potential dispute about when the items were purchased,” it instructed. Did people still get newspapers? And did anyone actually do this? Charlotte was confident she and Jack would never argue over who would get to keep the Wedgwood gravy boat or the Reed & Barton hostess set—he certainly couldn’t be bothered to weigh in on any of it when she’d been painstakingly creating their wedding registry—although if she added it all up, that stuff was worth a few thousand dollars, maybe more. She had no intention of inventorying her possessions for some highly unlikely occasion, but she could see how it wasn’t such a bad idea. She did it for her homeowners insurance, after all, and it wasn’t like she was planning on getting robbed or losing her house in a fire.
The section on how the Internet can smack you in the ass was overwhelming. Apparently it wasn’t enough not to post scathing online rants about your miserable mate; even benign-seeming photos (your kid happily jumping on a trampoline, or you frolicking on an exotic beach, even though your mom paid for the trip, for instance) that somebody else posted could be used as evidence against you in divorce proceedings. Trying to delete or hide such posts after the fact was even worse, the book explained, as it would clearly look like you were trying to “conceal evidence,” which is never wise during a breakup.
She skimmed a chapter about bank accounts and stock portfolios and credit cards and trusts, and when her eyes started to glaze over she closed the book with a sigh and slipped it back into its hiding place. She didn’t really like thinking about it, but Charlotte was vaguely aware that she didn’t actually know how much money she and Jack had at all, or where it even was. She had a rough idea of the base salary her husband took home selling breast implants for a huge pharmaceutical company, but she also knew that he could easily earn double that figure in any given year with commissions and bonuses. It wasn’t Jack’s fault she was clueless about their finances. He’d talk frequently about this stock or that retirement account and what he was doing with them, but she never paid much attention. And every year when he sat down with their financial advisor (whose name Charlotte couldn’t currently recall, although she was almost certain she could find his downtown office if she really tried) for their annual review, Jack invited her to come with him, but she always declined. To her it would be like forcing him to go grocery shopping with her: boring and unnecessary. Divide and conquer, she always told Jack when he suggested she tag along. She was better at some things and he was better at others. It just made sense that they’d each make the best use of the strengths they brought to the table.
Jilli had been born on Charlotte’s twenty-sixth birthday. From that day forward, Charlotte insisted that her daughter was the best birthday present she’d ever gotten. (Jackson had been born just shy of two years later, on St. Paddy’s Day. From that day forward, Jack had insisted that their son was a great excuse to drink beer.) It had never seemed a burden or a sacrifice to share this day when Jilli was younger; in fact, Charlotte rather enjoyed belaboring the bit about how it was her birthday in every sense of the word. Plus, Charlotte loved everything about birthdays. She loved planning parties and baking and decorating cakes and shopping for presents and picking out the perfect coordinating gift wrap. It was a bonus for her that she got to do all of that for her dear, sweet Jilli on her own special day.
For the first time ever, though, Jilli didn’t want a party. For her fifteenth birthday, all she wanted was a new phone (she was eligible for an upgrade, so it would require no all-day shopping excursion and disappointingly little gift wrap) and dinner at Benihana, which was both her and Charlotte’s favorite. At least there was that.
“What do you want for our birthday, Mom?” Jilli asked her at breakfast one morning. It was a good two weeks away still, and Charlotte hadn’t really thought about it. The kids usually got her something small—a pair of earrings from a kiosk at the mall or a bouquet of flowers from the grocery store—and Jack, well, Jack wasn’t exactly the world’s best gift-giver. In fact, he may well have been the world’s worst. Over the years, he’d given her practically every clichéd item on the “Don’t Give Your Wife This or You’ll Wind Up in the Doghouse” list: Tickets to a hockey game. Slipper socks. A battery-operated cellulite massager. Expensive, slutty lingerie. A Belgian waffle iron (Jack liked waffles; Charlotte did not). An assortment of exercise equipment. A Roomba. Gift cards. And once, a Weight Watchers body fat scale. On each occasion, when Jack presented the gift-bomb in question, it invariably was accompanied by a laborious explanation of the well-intentioned but misguided thought process that went into choosing it. (“Remember when I went to that hockey game and I told you how good the hot dogs were at the concession stand and you asked me why I didn’t bring one home for you?” “The sales lady said her cellulite completely went away in three weeks. I checked out her thighs, too, and she certainly didn’t have any that I could see.” “It vacuums the floor for you. You’re always complaining about all the housework you do; think how much time that will save you!”)
“You’re sweet to ask, honey,” she told Jilli now, leaning over to give her daughter an affectionate hug. “But honestly, I have everything I could ever need.”
“Really?” Jack asked, stuffing a crispy strip of bacon into his mouth. “You don’t need anything? How about a new toaster oven? I noticed ours was making this clicking sound when Jackson’s toast was in there. Did it always do that?”
“Yes, it’s always done that. That’s how you know it’s on toast and not broil,” Charlotte told him. What she really wanted to say was, “And even if we did need a new toaster oven, how exactly would that be considered a gift for me? When was the last time you saw me eat toast, Jack? Or a bagel, or a Pop-Tart, or a frozen waffle or anything else one typically puts into a toaster oven? How would you like a new lawn mower for your birthday? ‘Here you go, honey! This will make that miserable task a lot more fun for you!’” Charlotte’s head was reeling with all of these thoughts, plus one fairly obvious rhetorical question: Was her husband really that clueless?
“Good thing I didn’t pick one up when I was at Sears yesterday then,” Jack said with a laugh. It was a sarcastic laugh, the one she heard and immediately translated into God, you’re an impossible bitch in her head. “So really, you don’t want anything?”
I want lots of things, Jack! I want a cashmere bathrobe and a spa weekend and cozy new UGG boots, not the cheap Costco knockoffs you insist are “exactly the same.” I want you to notice that my iPad screen is cracked and surprise me by getting it fixed. I want a mother’s necklace like Lizzy has, with the initials of each of my children stamped on simple disks hanging from a delicate gold chain. I want tickets to the symphony or the ballet or a comedy club—not a hockey game, because after twenty years you should know that I can’t stand hockey. I want you to remember when and where we saw that mother of pearl watch I’ve never forgotten (two summers ago at Tiffany in New York), and then hunt it down, used on eBay if you have to because they don’t make it anymore, and buy it. I want you to blow me away with something special, something meaningful or decadent or both, possibly something diamond-studded. I want you to give me a second thought.
“I can’t think of anything I need,” Charlotte said.
“I guess that’s settled then,” Jack said. “Jilli, could you pass me the OJ?”
• • •
The Crawford girls’ shared birthday fell on a Saturday this year, and Charlotte made reservations at Benihana.
“Dinner’s at eight thirty tonight,” she reminded Jack as she cleaned up after lunch.
“Why so late?” he wanted to know.
“I thought we could walk around downtown for a bit first, maybe grab a drink or do some window-shopping,” she said. The only thing that had surprised Charlotte when Jack came through with her request for absolutely nothing for her birthday was the fact that she was surprised. It would be just like Jack to take that statement literally. But at the very least he’d get her a card and some flowers, wouldn’t he? But he hadn’t. He’d whispered, “Happy birthday, honey,” before she even opened her eyes, so she knew he hadn’t forgotten. The truth was she’d originally made the reservation for seven o’clock, which was when they always ate, but she’d called an hour ago and changed the time. She wanted to give her husband one last chance to see her admiring this trinket or that and then buy it for her.
When Charlotte shuffled everyone out of the house at seven, Jack was already grumbling. “An hour to window shop? Can I just find a sports bar somewhere and meet you guys when it’s time to eat?” Charlotte had ignored his question and driven straight to her favorite store, Luxe. Everything here was handmade or one of a kind and unlike anything you’d find at the mall. Charlotte could spend hours at a stretch combing the crowded shelves. Surely Jack would find something worth buying for her.
“How adorable is this?” she asked Jack, holding up a tiny porcelain kitten heel shoe.
“What is it?” Jack asked.
“It’s a shoe.”
“Even I can see that,” Jack said. “But what are you supposed to do with it?”
“You don’t do anything with it, Jack. You just . . . display it. And admire it. It’s art.”
Jack looked at her blankly. “Women are nuts,” he said finally.
“Because we like to admire and enjoy pretty things? Isn’t that what men are famous for?” Charlotte goaded.
Jack walked away shaking his head. Charlotte took a deep breath. This was not the way she wanted the evening to go. She followed him to the front of the store, where he was leaning against a glass display case, looking patently bored.
Charlotte looked around the store. She knew that to her husband, the best gift was something you could use, something with a purpose. When Jilli and Jackson were little, he’d take them to the toy store on their birthdays and let them each pick out their own gift from him. “It can’t be something like a stuffed animal,” he’d insist, to Jilli’s deep dismay. “It has to be something you can do something with, like a ball or a game.” Charlotte had refused to tag along on these trips on principle; in her mind, a great gift was something the recipient wanted, not something you wanted to give them or thought they should have. Besides, stuffed animals engaged the mind and encouraged creative play; they were comforting and provided sensory stimulation; and, most of all, Jilli adored them. “Just because you can’t appreciate something doesn’t mean it’s useless,” she’d wanted to say. Instead, she routinely bought Jilli a new stuffed animal every time a gift-giving occasion presented itself, a silent “fuck your stupid, senseless rules” to Jack.
Now she spotted a display of watches on the counter next to where Jack stood. She slipped one off its stand and onto her wrist.
“Isn’t this a pretty watch?” she asked, extending her arm. It was a simple silver cuff bracelet with a plain white face. It wasn’t the timeless, elegant Tiffany timepiece her heart pined for, that was for sure. No, it was a piece of cheap costume jewelry that probably would turn her arm green the first time she wore it. But still it had a function; a purpose. Even Jack would have to concede to that.
“It’s nice,” Jack agreed, giving it a cursory glance.
“It’s only sixty-five dollars,” she added, pretending to notice the price tag for the first time.
“Is that a good deal?” he asked absently.
“I think so,” she told him. “I’d pay three times that!”
“You should get it then,” Jack told her.
Charlotte put the watch back. “I’m hungry,” she told him. “Let’s go.” Jack shrugged and followed her out the door.
• • •
“What’s everyone getting?” Jack asked after they’d finally been seated at Benihana.
“Can I get the steak?” Jackson asked.
“Hell no. It’s not your birthday,” Jack joked, giving Jilli an exaggerated wink. Charlotte felt invisible.
“I’m getting the chicken,” Jilli announced.
“A fine choice for the birthday girl,” Jack told her, ruffling her dark hair. The birthday girl. “Oh, speaking of . . .” He pulled a card out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Jilli.
“Happy birthday to my two favorite girls,” she read aloud. Then she handed the card to Charlotte. There was no “to” line, so not only could he not be bothered to buy Charlotte her own card, he also didn’t have the graciousness to even write out her name. What were his favorite girls supposed to do, rip the card in half and each save their portion in their respective scrapbooks? He hadn’t even written on both sides.
“Thanks, honey,” Charlotte said dismissively, handing the card back to Jilli.
“Why are you so pissed off?” Jack asked later, as they were getting ready for bed.
“I’m not pissed off,” she lied.
“Could have fooled me,” he said.
Charlotte thought about whether or not she should say anything. She knew from experience that if she did, it would turn into a fight. When she bit her tongue—as she so often did—these little episodes would blow over and things would go back to being mostly fine, usually within a day. But she was hurt and angry and she wanted him to know it.
“You couldn’t bother to get me my own card?” she asked. She realized that she sounded like a petulant four-year-old, but she didn’t care.
“I thought you thought store-bought cards were a racket,” Jack said. He was right; Charlotte did often say that. But still.
“And you couldn’t even pick a rose from the garden and put it in a vase?” She knew she was pushing him now; that the argument ball was racing downhill and would quickly gather an unstoppable amount of speed. She braced herself.
“Goddamn it, Charlotte,” Jack exploded on cue. “I asked you fifteen times what you wanted for your birthday! You’ve made it very clear in the past that left to my own devices I’m a lousy gift-giver. I believe your exact words were ‘I have everything I could ever want.’ So once again, I’m the bad guy for listening to you.” He shook his head and stormed toward the bathroom, muttering under his breath.
“Actually,” Charlotte said, following him, “I said I have everything I could ever need. There’s a big difference. I want lots of things, Jack. Lots!”
“So now I’m supposed to be a fucking mind reader? Thanks for the heads-up. I’ll try to work on that.” Jack squeezed toothpaste onto his brush and then threw the tube back in the drawer without the cap on it. She retrieved it, replaced the cap and stowed it neatly in its proper place.
“Really, Jack? It takes a fucking mind reader to know that people like receiving gifts on their birthdays? That everyone wants to feel like somebody cares enough about them to take the time to choose a thoughtful token of their affection one goddamned day out of the year?”
“Happy birthday, Charlotte,” Jack said, tossing his sloppy toothbrush into the sink and stalking from the room. She heard him click on the living room TV and crack open a beer. Who drank a beer after they brushed their teeth? Charlotte put away his toothbrush and wiped the sink and counter down with a hand towel. Then she crawled into bed and switched off the light.
“Happy fucking birthday,” she said to the empty room.
• • •
Charlotte kept up the silent treatment for four solid days; her husband barely seemed to notice. Finally, and only to herself, she accepted the fact that Jack would win at that game—he always had and always would, because her need for communication was far greater than his. She pasted on her happy face and popped the top off a cold bottle of Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale, Jack’s favorite local microbrew.
“Which of these light fixtures do you like the best?” she asked, handing him the beer and fanning a stack of color printouts out on the end table next to him.
“Which one is the cheapest?” he asked, taking the bottle. His eyes stayed glued to some stupid game on TV.
“They’re all about the same,” Charlotte said. The truth was, she hadn’t even looked at any of the prices.
“Then I honestly couldn’t care less,” Jack said.
“Couldn’t you just pretend to have an opinion? It’s a lot of pressure having to pick out everything, you know,” Charlotte said.
“This bathroom remodel was your idea,” Jack reminded her needlessly. “I thought it was fine before. Come on, you asshole, throw the ball. What are you waiting for? THROW THE FUCKING BALL! Plus, I thought Lizzy was helping you with all of this crap. Since when do you care what I like?”
Charlotte hated to admit it, but Jack was right. She hadn’t solicited his input on a single decision until now. But Lizzy was in such a funk since her split from Adam that Charlotte felt bad asking her to weigh in on trivialities like fixtures and finishes when she was worried about paying for groceries. Still, her husband’s comment stung.
“Of course I care what you like,” Charlotte insisted. “This is our bathroom. I want you to love it, too.” This seemed to get Jack’s attention.
“Unless you’re planning to put a flat-screen TV and a beer tap in there, I doubt I’m going to love it,” he said. “It’s a bathroom, a place to shit and shower and shave. Asking me to give a rat’s ass about the way it looks would be like me expecting you to care who wins this game.”
“Fine,” Charlotte said, snatching up the pictures. “Thanks for your helpful input.”
“You’re welcome,” Jack said as she flounced from the room. “Hey, want to grab me the jar of peanuts while you’re up?”
Charlotte ignored him.
• • •
Normally, Charlotte saved her juiciest gossip for Lizzy. But since this sizzling morsel had come from Lizzy, she had no choice but to unleash it on Jack.
“Adam got That Whore Amber pregnant,” Charlotte said before he’d even made it through the front doorway.
“Huh?” Jack said, throwing his keys next to the hand-painted key dish on the hall table. Charlotte knew he did this to annoy her. What other explanation could there be? He’d been with her at that little bazaar in Mexico when she found the dish and he knew that was why she’d bought it in the first place. “Won’t this make a perfect key dish?” is exactly what she’d said, and she distinctly remembered him nodding his head in agreement.
“I said,” Charlotte articulated, drawing out the words as if she were talking to a disobedient toddler, “that Lizzy’s asshole husband Adam got his teenage fucking girlfriend pregnant.”
“I thought you said she was twenty,” Jack said.
“WHATEVER!” Charlotte screamed. “Lizzy’s asshole husband Adam got his twenty-year-old girlfriend pregnant!”
“Why does that even matter anymore?” Jack wanted to know. “They’re divorced. It’s over. Move on already.”
“Would it be that easy for you, Jack? If I had an affair with the gardener and left you and you found out eight months later I was pregnant with his child, would you have already completely moved on?” She followed Jack into the kitchen, where he was fixing himself a scotch. Charlotte gripped the edge of the kitchen island to steady herself.
“Would I have any choice?” Jack asked, shaking his head. “I don’t know why you always want to turn everything into a fight, Charlotte. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m a simple guy. Black-and-white. That’s just the way it is.”
Charlotte remembered the first time she’d heard him say that about himself, that he was black-and-white, all or nothing. They’d been dating only a short while and were dancing around the subject of religion when she asked him his thoughts on life after death. His response had been “What does it matter? It is what it is. What I think about it won’t change it or make it a certain way just because I want it to be.” Charlotte had continued to prod him. “But you must have some conviction one way or the other,” she’d insisted, “like you either believe in heaven and hell and God or reincarnation or you don’t.”
“I don’t think that way, Charlotte,” he’d said. She was pretty sure that was the moment she’d begun falling in love with him. He was so different from her in so many ways, and the intrigue was intoxicating. She liked to discuss and dissect every last detail on any topic and often had a hard time picking sides in a debate; Jack made quick, definitive decisions and never waffled once they’d been made. It was ironic, she thought now, that the things that first draw you to a person can become the very things that push you away.
“It must be nice,” Charlotte said.
“What must be nice?” Jack wanted to know.
“Not to have to feel anything or even give a shit about anyone,” Charlotte spat, stalking from the room.
“How are you doing?” Charlotte asked as she sat down at Lizzy’s new kitchen table. It was one of those cheap ones with faux-wood folding chairs and a tile top, probably from Target. She’d given Adam everything in the divorce plus the kitchen sink—literally. The no-good cheater had walked away with the house, the stock portfolio, the purebred golden retriever and Lizzy’s grandmother’s mint condition Louix XVI mahogany dining table that was probably worth a cool ten grand. Charlotte had tried to talk some sense into her at the time—even if she didn’t want the things themselves, Lizzy could sell them and use the money for little luxuries like rent and food, Charlotte had pointed out—but her friend had been adamant. She wanted a clean and complete break, and she wanted her kids; the rest were just possessions, not to mention painful reminders of her former life. It turned out Adam and his pregnant young girlfriend were perfectly fine with that arrangement. Funny what lust could do to a person, Charlotte thought. The worst part was that Adam had been her very favorite of all of her friends’ spouses, too, with his wit and charm and outgoing personality. He’d been an attentive husband and an involved father on top of it all, and yet he’d been able to just walk away. How was that even possible? Charlotte didn’t like thinking about the fact that people she thought she knew could have these hidden inner drives and lives.
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Reading Group Guide
Pretty Much Screwed Reader’s Guide
1. There are many interconnecting themes woven throughout Pretty Much Screwed including divorce, friendship, lies, communication, keeping up appearances, complacency, and self-delusion. Which theme(s) and character(s) could you relate to the most? The least?
2. Even though Charlotte frequently complains about her husband Jack, when he announces he wants a divorce, she is devastated. “I was unhappy sometimes, sure,” she tells her friends. “And I’m sure Jack was, too. But marriage is hard, right? Everybody knows that. I didn’t go into it expecting kittens and sunshine. And I’m pretty sure we weren’t any more miserable than anyone else I know.” How does this make you feel? Do you feel compassion, empathy or pity for Charlotte—or something else entirely?
3. Discuss the following quote that appears on page 258 of the book when Charlotte’s therapist offers her view of Charlotte and Jack’s marriage and how it relates to the central themes of the book: “I think your marriage was like a beautiful, broken-down car. The thing hadn’t been running for years but you were out there every day washing it and waxing it and pulling out the weeds that were growing around it. You put all of your efforts into worrying about how it looked to anyone passing by and none at all into actually making it work. Jack may have been the one to walk away, but if we’re sticking with the car analogy, the engine had already been stolen and Jack could see that. He was cutting his losses—what good was a car with no working parts?—while you were too afraid to look under the hood.”
4. Charlotte’s relationship with Lizzy, her seemingly effortlessly thin and beautiful BFF, is central to this story. Through Charlotte’s persistent belief that she doesn’t measure up to her friend, we see all of the flaws Charlotte sees in herself. Do you think Lizzy’s physical beauty makes it difficult for those around her to empathize with her? How do you think this shapes her character?
5. While it’s clear Charlotte wishes to maintain the appearance of a happy marriage to Jack, she also seems to revel in complaining about him to her gal-pals. Are her complaints mostly heartfelt or do some of them come from a desire to tantalize her friends and get attention? Do you think she complains about her relationship in an effort to normalize or even justify her marital problems?
6. Scientific research has suggested that divorce is a “social contagion”—that the more divorcees you know, the more likely you are to get divorced yourself. This theory is mentioned briefly in Pretty Much Screwed. Have you seen this situation in your life? How do you think Lizzy’s divorce impacted Charlotte?
7. It’s said that men use sex to feel closer to their partners, while women’s desire spikes when they’re already experiencing feelings of closeness. With that in mind, consider how Charlotte resists sleeping with Jesse during their early courtship and the fact that Jesse insists he’s happy to wait. What does this say about their relationship at this point?
8. While Charlotte resists being intimate with Jesse, she has no problem jumping back into bed with her ex-husband Jack; when she does, the sex they have in his hotel room is off the charts. Charlotte takes this sexual connection to mean they have re-established an emotional bond, but it becomes clear that Jack does not come to the same conclusion. Obviously, sex means very different things to these two characters. Discuss how Jack and Charlotte fit into the cultural conception of the way women interpret sex and the way men do.
9. When Charlotte breaks up with Jesse, Lizzy calls her and says, “I want to be on your side… but I’m starting to think I’m all alone over there. I don’t even think you’re on your side.” How did you feel about Lizzy when she said this? Is it a best friend’s job to be supportive no matter what, or to be the first one to tell you when they think you’re making a huge mistake?
10. Jack is a character who could either be said to change quite a bit or not at all throughout the novel. When he is married to Charlotte he is rude and dismissive, but at the end of the novel—after he cheats on his new girlfriend, makes empty promises to Charlotte about reviving their relationship, and signs away the right to see his unborn child—his actions could be considered downright villainous. Did he change or was he always a villain, just caged by his dedication to his marriage vows? Discuss.
11. Jack seems to hold the fact that he never cheated on Charlotte while they were married as a badge of honor, even though monogamy is what most married couples agree to when they say “I do.” Why do you think he is so self-congratulatory about this? What do you think this says about Jack’s conception of what marriage is?
12. Why do you think Charlotte doesn’t want to let anyone know her ex-husband is the father of her baby? What does she gain by allowing Jack to avoid taking responsibility for their child? Do you agree with Charlotte’s decision? Do you think a secret like this can ever really stay hidden?
13. Jesse and Charlotte’s relationship is a bit of a slow burn and at first he seems almost too good to be true. What was your reaction when you learned that Jesse had cheated on his previous wife and had hidden the fact he knew Jack was baby Ryder’s father? How did these revelations raise or lower him in your estimation? Do you think you would have had the same reaction Charlotte did?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The characters are likable and it is written so that the reader fully understands the situations and relationships in which they are involved. The time line moves fast and Mccarthy does need bore the reader with too much detail. Thank you!
Okay but not what I expected¿ after reading the preview
I enjoyed the characters and storyline
I have read a few of the non-fiction books by this author and was really looking forward to her first novel. It did NOT disappoint! A perfect summer read. I picked it up last Friday afternoon and sat by the pool both laughing and shaking my head at the realness of the story. Ms. McCarthy has the ability to write real life into a fun, thought provoking work about marriage and friendship. Loved it and can't wait for her next novel!