Opposites attract in She Poured Out Her Heart, Jean Thompson’s new novel, which is located in the heartland—both literally and figuratively. Set in the Midwest and tracing the relationship between two very different women, the novel follows them from their years as college roommates as they quickly settle into roles they seem almost destined to play.
Jane and Bonnie met at a frat party almost immediately after Jane’s rather lackluster loss of virginity. Bonnie was wild and impetuous, drawn to the dramatic and the crazy in any situation. Jane was quieter and more cautious. This was reflected in their choice of men as well: After a series of dull boyfriends, Jane ended up marrying a Eric, medical student and set out to be the perfect wife and mother, whereas Bonnie partied her way in and out of relationships and drank too much, even as she excelled in her career as a crisis manager. But Jane carries a secret, almost mystical attachment to her ability to zone out, to vanish into the whiteness, as she called it. This culminates horribly at a Christmas open house, when she wanders into the backyard, removes her clothes and lies down in the snow. Despite her career in crisis intervention, Bonnie is caught off guard, both by Jane’s mental collapse and by her own unspoken need for stability.
In Jane and Bonnie, Thompson has created two very believable protagonists and following the twists of their relationship is an engaging journey. But after Jane’s breakdown, the novel slides dangerously close to a slack domestic drama of marital discord and betrayal. Fans of Thompson might find the study of the two women’s friendship worthwhile, but newcomers should start with her shorter fiction such as Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist) where her literary gifts shine more brightly. Still, Thompson is a master of emotional complexities and has a real knack for capturing the passionate swells and currents that pulse within the hearts of even the most conventional characters.