Mercury in Retrograde: A Novel

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9781416598947: Mercury in Retrograde: A Novel
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Author Paula Froelich has had the scoop on almost every high profile New York scandal. Now she brings her insider’s perspective to fiction in a delicious debut that had readers talking all summer.

Mercury in Retrograde introduces three women whose lives intersect when they each decide to move into the same SoHo apartment building. Penelope Mercury is an intrepid reporter at the New York Telegraph who spends her days pounding the pavement in every borough to meet the unreasonable demands of her boss. She aspires to cover courtroom drama for the paper, but on one disastrous day instead of being promoted, she gets fired. Lena “Lipstick Carcrash” Lippencrass is an Upper East Side socialite who works at the high fashion magazine Y and loses her perfect apartment after her wealthy parents cut her off from her trust fund. And Dana Gluck is a corporate lawyer on the verge of becoming a partner who has seen her marriage and prospects for motherhood disappear, leaving her almost comatose with depression.

As these three disparate women become friends, they soon discover that having their carefully planned lives fall to pieces might have been the best thing that could have ever happened to them. A thoroughly modern novel, Mercury in Retrograde captures the trials and tribulations of city life with humor and heart.

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About the Author:

The deputy editor for the New York Post's Page Six column, Paula lives in New York City. Mercury in Retrograde is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

SCORPIO:

With Mercury falling into a particularly difficult retrograde, the best advice for you is to JUST STAY HOME. All communications with senior management are fraught with difficulty, and it is best to keep your own counsel.

Penelope Mercury hadn't meant to quit her job without another one waiting in the wings.

In fact, she hadn't meant to quit at all.

Nor had she meant to set the back photo studio on fire.

And it was a complete accident that she had thrown up all over her boss.

But, well, she had.

That Wednesday started off pretty much like every other day for Penelope, with a harsh six a.m. wakeup call from the notoriously indecisive morning news editor of the New York Telegraph, Dan Martman, aka "Martman," who suffered from a severe Napoleonic complex. ("Both 'complex one,' teeny tiny height, and the more nefarious 'complex two,' teeny tiny penis," Penelope had once told her best friend Neal DuBoix. "He's not only short, but Farrah in Business slept with him once and said he's really edited for length, you know...down there...")

Not surprisingly, Martman made up for his indecisiveness and famous shortcomings in volume and ferocity. "Mercury!" he screamed down the early morning line, jolting Penelope out of a deep sleep. "Some asshole got into a fight with his girlfriend and threw her cat out of her fourteenth-floor apartment window in Evergreen Gardens, you know, in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Get the girlfriend, get a picture of the dead cat when it was still an alive cat, and interview the neighbors! Go! Go! Go!"

"Do we have her address?" Penelope asked, grabbing for her bedside notepad and pen as Martman rambled off the number and street of the unfortunate cat lady. "And is she gonna let me in or is this a blind drop-in?" Her nose was running. She leaned over and peeked out of the window. The sky was a heavy, unfortunate color of gray and snow covered the ground. She quickly added, "I'm still kind of sick from doorstepping in Queens during last week's blizzard and today doesn't look like it's gonna be much better."

One of the more unattractive aspects of being a general assignment reporter or "G.A.R." (an acronym pronounced similarly to the sound one made when sent out on assignment to some hellhole) -- besides the low pay -- was that the GAR spent much of her (its) professional life "doorstepping." This meant standing outside someone's home who may have had something newsworthy (read: terrible) happen to them, waiting for him or her to come in or out so as to grab a quote or a picture, while evading fists, snarling dogs, and curses and simultaneously trying to jam one's foot in the door before it closed and locked indefinitely. Doorstepping could take hours and you couldn't even move from the spot to go to the bathroom, because if you missed your target and God forbid someone from the Post or the Daily News got them instead of you, your ass was Martman grass.

"Who fucking cares if there's a storm? It's your goddamn job!" Martman yelled into the phone.

Before Martman could hang up on her or work himself into more of a lather, Penelope tried to ask him about the court reporting position that had just opened up, the one she had volubly coveted for five years.

"Well, okay, but did you make a decision on Kershank's job? You said I was the frontrun -- "

"Just get the goddamn story!" Martman screamed, cutting her off before hanging up.

Sammy Kershank had given notice a month earlier to go work for Newsweek, leaving his job as a Manhattan court reporter tantalizingly open. Penelope, who'd been slaving away under Martman's iron fist, proving herself as a GAR, had been eyeing the position since she'd started at the Telegraph seven years earlier.

Penelope sighed. She wanted that job more than anything she'd ever wanted in her life. She pushed play on her CD alarm clock that was shoved into the corner of her bed (alongside her makeshift "desk area" of notebooks, pens, and tissues). "She works hard for the money," Donna Summer belted out, "so hard for it honey, so you better treat her right -- alright!"

You tell 'em, Donna. Penelope smiled as she hacked out a cough, giving Ms. Summer a mental high five as she threw her slightly yellowed down comforter off and blew her nose in one of the tissues that was tucked in beside the alarm clock.

Penelope had moved to New York in 2002 after four years of struggling through a journalism major at Ohio State University (academia was never her thing), not too far from her hometown of Cincinnati, brimming with dreams of a Pulitzer and all the usual excitement of a recent New York transplant. She found the tiny three-room rent-stabilized apartment at 198 Sullivan Street between Prince and Houston in the hip area of Soho by calling a number on the front of the building that had read, "Apartments: No Fee." The fourth-floor walk-up was only a thousand dollars a month. More accustomed to Ohio real estate prices, Penelope didn't realize it was a steal. ("I always thought that for a grand a month I'd get a terrace or at least a real bathroom," she'd said to Neal, who'd responded, "Dorothy, you're not in Ohio anymore").

It turned out to be so cheap for New York because the bedroom was small enough that it could fit only a full-sized bed and a dresser -- which she'd fortuitously found on the street corner two weeks after she'd moved in. Despite having a few water stains on the top, it was a beautiful cherry wood and worked perfectly. The kitchen sink in the tiny room that held a half-stove and a fridge doubled as the bathroom sink, as the bathroom was actually a series of two closets on either side of the living room -- one of which hid a toilet, and the other disguised a shower.

The living room was a misnomer. It was ten feet by ten feet and didn't leave very much room to live in at all. But Penelope had managed to squeeze in a small futon from IKEA (prized for its ability to deconstruct and get through the door more than for any other reason), a glass coffee table, and a small cozy chair that looked like a faux-leather La-Z-Boy but didn't lounge back. On the bright side, coffee drips on pleather could be wiped away like nothing ever happened.

"It used to be an old tenement building, and no one was supposed to have their own bathroom," the old man who was to become her landlord said. "So we made do. But it's got its original tin ceilings and hardwood floors. Don't eat too much in here, though. There are rats in the walls we've been trying to exterminate for years."

Penelope took the apartment immediately, despite the palpable presence of rats and absence of terrace, more out of necessity than anything else, and set about getting a reporting job. After a brief and unhappy internship at a financial weekly that lasted the duration of a single issue, she met someone who knew someone who got her a job as a copy kid at the New York Telegraph, a tabloid with headlines like "Kabloomie!" (about American troops bombing poppy fields in Afghanistan) or "I-say-ah You're Fired!" (about Isaiah Thomas being dismissed from the Knicks after losing a sexual harassment case against a coworker he'd continually referred to as a "bitch").

Two years later Penelope was promoted from copy kid -- where basic duties included getting coffee for any editor who felt thirsty and lazy (basically, all of them), collecting packages from the messenger center, running errands, and sorting mail -- to general assignment reporter. She was a great GAR. She'd go anywhere, do anything, ask the most ridiculous questions, and could gain almost anyone's trust.

The job had also helped decorate her apartment for free and thus, seven years later, reflected her many travels throughout the boroughs of New York. Above her bed was a large Jackson Pollock-esque drip oil painting that Sherry, the homeless woman/artist who'd rescued a dog from certain death off the subway tracks in Chelsea during rush hour ("Bum Ride!" page 12, lead story, September 18, 2002), had pulled from her shopping cart and given to Penelope after Penelope had taken her to lunch during their interview. In the living room there was a small wooden chair in the corner with an embroidered seat cushion that Mrs. Blackstone, who ran a thrift shop in Crown Heights that had been burgled ("Burglar Breaks in Looking for a Steal," page 21, bottom story, April 7, 2005), had sold her at a steep discount. Penelope had received the 1940s Formica kitchen table gratis from the Grubmans, a Coney Island carnie couple -- she was the bearded lady, he was the escape artist -- who were cleaning out their storage closet as Penelope interviewed them about Mrs. Grubman's beard catching on fire during an unfortunate incident with the flame swallower ("Beard Burn!" page 19, right-hand column, July 25, 2004). And all over the walls and fridge were other collected artwork and personal treasures that Penelope had picked up while on various assignments: a Ghanaian bust from Harlem, an Indian painting of the goddess Shiva she'd gotten during a story in Bellerose, Queens, a watercolor of Athens from Astoria, a tiny Torah from Borough Park, and a kitschy set of Russian nesting dolls she'd gotten as a gift from Olga, a Russian escort from Brighton Beach, after Penelope had convinced the Telegraph to pay Olga's bail during the 2006 Russian hooker crackdown in exchange for an exclusive interview ("Mayor Rages: No More Russkie Rent Girls!" the entire front page or "The Wood" as it was known at the paper, February 10, 2006). She'd also given Olga the number of a nearby shelter and a women's support group, but figured Olga probably wouldn't use either.

Besides artwork and furniture, she'd also picked up her best, and pretty much only, friend. She'd met Neal, a chic interior decorator for the city's elite, during a stakeout four years earlier. She doorstepped him during a thunderstorm after his ex-boyfriend, Bernard Bertrand, a dog...

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