By the end of this novel, you might feel a bit like one of its two protagonists, longtime friends Jane and Bonnie: How did I get to this point? Life happens, you do what you think you're supposed to, as Jane has, and then you find yourself asking what you've done to get here.
Accused early on of being a "very conventional person," Jane reflects that she never thinks of herself in those terms, "or whatever other label was placed on her, but other people seemed to view her so much more clearly than she did herself."
Still, she is conventional, in clear contrast to Bonnie, whose own brand of conventionality runs more along the lines of the Quality Romance Publications she enjoys, not entirely ironically, as a young woman.
Oddball member of an oddball family (stepfather a megalomaniacal sculptor, "BioDad" a cypher), Bonnie is serially, single-mindedly promiscuous — "You're like, a sexual predator," Jane tells her at one point. But contemplating the "old, sappy stories with their cartoon faces and cartoon hairstyles, and all the while sex like a dog under the dinner table, fed in sly handfuls," she thinks. "But in spite of it everybody wanted the dream, the fantasy, the happy ending, and that included her, no matter how much she mocked them."
The two women, who meet in college, find a sort of contrapuntal equilibrium as Jane marries Eric, her college sweetheart, and becomes a doctor's wife and a stay-at-home mom with two children, while Bonnie pursues a high-octane career in crisis intervention and carries on with a series of "bad idea men."
But then a sense of dislocation that has long haunted Jane — a feeling of "the ordinary awfulness of her life" that appears as a type of syncope, a "beautiful white nothing" — truly overtakes her. She leaves her own Christmas party, takes off her clothes, and lies down naked in her snowy backyard. In the peculiar wake of this, Bonnie and Eric commence an affair, forever skewing the balance between the two women, to say nothing of the definition of "normal" that both have been laboring under.
Thompson, the author most recently of "The Witch" and "The Humanity Project," has a knack for rendering the ordinary odd and the odd ordinary, in straightforward language that belies the complexity of the everyday dramas in which her characters find themselves. "She Poured Out Her Heart" is no different, as the seemingly ordinary lives it depicts emerge, under Thompson's wry scrutiny, as anything but — which is to say, as strange as "normal" life almost invariably is.
Ellen Akins, a writer and a teacher of writing, is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She lives in Wisconsin.