Thurston is an American working as a lecturer in Brighton. His life is thrown into turmoil when his lover mysteriously vanishes just days after his proposal. She eventually returns, only to vanish completely just weeks before the wedding.
Seeking explanations from her family and friends he goes on a harrowing journey back to Brighton and her hometown Budapest, where he discovers the shocking truth of her double life, shaking the foundations of his existence and forcing him to reconsider whether it is possible to ever truly know or trust anyone, including himself
The Lipstick Empire is a tragic story of love thrown away on those who don’t deserve it, like Fiesta, the Sun Also Rises or The Great Gatsby. Written with a strong sense of place, it combines the psychological insight of Proust with the philosophical vision of Beckett by turning the quest to win over a woman’s heart into an exploration of the darkest regions of the human spirit.
The Lipstick Empire is the last of the Andrassy Ut. Trilogy, a collection of thematically linked novels with different characters and settings, including The Forest and The Mountain.
Thurston picked up the phone and dialed. Although he had only been away from Andrea for two weeks visiting his family in Colorado, he was already starting to feel her absence from his life in a way that he could no longer ignore. It was past eleven in England and she would most likely be home. He had to let her know in a subtle and not overly sentimental way that he missed her. The phone rang seven times before she answered.
“Hello,” she said. “I just thinking about you.” Her voice dropped into the silence of her room. It was a dark velvety silence, a silence like a womb. It took hold of him and reassembled his best impressions of her, piece by piece. He imagined her walking down the Brighton beachfront, awash as much with the ocean spray as the carnival lights, the seaside rides and merrymaking celebrating a time far less glorious than its memory.
“I miss you,” he said. The silence continued in a way that was no longer comforting. Maybe he had said the wrong thing and she was just sitting there that very instant thinking he had spent the last week sitting in his room pining away for her. Although he sometimes wondered what they had in common, he never doubted that she was right for him. She had a certain way, perhaps European in its origins, of being relaxed and not seeming to worry as much about things as he did. It was an attitude that he found intriguing, and one that - he had slowly come to realize - he had never been able to sustain in his life without some outside influence. “But I've been keeping busy,” he added, trying to offset any negative implications that his first comment might have planted.
“It very hot here,” she said. “Me Júlia go to beach yesterday. Have to get out of day home. Woman there go crazy. She schizophrenic. She up all night and we have to chase her around house. Not my cup of tea.”
“Maybe you should get out of there,” he said. He wanted to test the waters. If she was on a work permit that bound her to one employer, the day home in which she lived and worked as a kind of unqualified care person, she would never be free to leave and find a new job unless she wanted to move back to Hungary. Yet if she could, then maybe she could leave the day home and move in with him.
“I must be careful,” she said. “I do one wrong thing and I might get sent back Hungary.” She stopped. For a moment it seemed like all that existed in the universe was the sound of her breathing. “How your mother?” she asked like she didn't quite know what to say.
“Fine,” said Thurston. He really didn't know what to say either. “Doing very well,” he continued, almost nervously. There was always the danger that a bad conversation during a phone call after some time apart might be taken as a condensed representation of the entire relationship, thinning it, diluting it, making it seem like some dry abstraction barely worth holding on to. It was this possibility in Andrea that scared Thurston the most. Maybe in that short moment on the phone during which he was transformed to little more than a voice on the other end of the line, she would see him as he really was for that brief window in the space-time continuum: nothing more than some etheric presence hovering somewhere in the great black entanglement phone lines and telecommunication satellites that started in one plastic box and ended in another.
“I sorry Thurston,” she said. “My English not so good. When you around I can read lips, but on phone very difficult for me. Always very hard.”
His doubts receded and he felt an overwhelming sympathy for her. It must have been difficult for her to leave her homeland and go to a new country where she could barely speak the language and then be forced to work like a slave for minimum wages.
“It must be hard,” he said what he was already thinking.
“Hard? I don't know.” There was a pause. “Yes, maybe,” she finally conceded.
He heard the sound of someone shouting upstairs. Maybe it was dinnertime.
“I have to go,” he said. He felt relieved.
“Thank you so much for your call,” she said, in what sounded like a tone of sweet desperation. He felt good again. It seemed like she was waiting anxiously for his return. He closed his eyes and let her face form inside him. It was a soft face, yet chiseled in the right places with big green eyes that somehow looked more Asian than their roundness and size would suggest. She would be smiling, he thought. He could almost see her red lips rising into the contours of her cheeks.
He made a small, almost imperceptible, kissing noise into the receiver. In response he heard the hiss of a dead line. He took a deep breath and hung up. It was getting late and he had plans for the evening. He fixed himself a drink and took a chair in the living room. He had another three weeks with his family before he had to go back to England to continue his work at the University of Sussex. They had lured him over from America a year and a half earlier after a successful postdoc at MIT with a promise of a permanent job as a lecturer in chemistry. But, as soon as he got there, he was told his position had been eliminated. The Dean didn't even give him a chance to prove himself. Funding had been cut and he was told he had two years to look for a new position unless some last-minute money could be found. From that day on he decided to make the best of it and get whatever work he could done while also doing his best to apply and interview for other faculty positions back in North America. But most of all he decided to enjoy himself. They had done him a bad turn, but he wasn't about to let them ruin his life more than they already had. He was in Europe and was going to take advantage of it while he could. He had always liked the older buildings, the tree-lined boulevards, and the seemingly endless layers of history. But more importantly, he was fascinated by the people - especially the women. There was a silence in their eyes, and perhaps even a sullen shiftiness in their brow, underneath which was the promise of something greater. Something powerful and deep. Something like mystery and adventure, although far stronger and more real.