Wednesday, July 21, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Good in Bed'
The Book: Good in Bed
The Author: Jennifer Weiner
How I Found It: Reading about the sequel, which sounded really interesting, made me try this one first. I'd also largely dismissed "chick lit" without reading any of it, so I decided to start with the current top ladies of the genre, Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner.
The Review: Sitting at her desk one day doing her usual job as an entertainment reporter, Candace "Cannie" Shapiro gets a call from her best friend, Samantha. Samantha wants to know if Cannie's seen the latest issue of a certain magazine. When she asks Cannie to go get one, Cannie does--and learns that her ex-boyfriend has written about their relationship, their sex life, in a national magazine. Worse yet, he's talking about her body--the column is titled "Loving a Larger Woman".
Cannie has always been aware of her weight and how other people see her because of it, and what stings about the article is that her ex-boyfriend, Bruce, understood more about her than she realized. Facing him about it does little more than rekindle her desire to be with him, which Bruce refuses. Bruce's initial magazine article sets off a surprising chain of events that will bring Cannie tears, laughter, unexpected surprises, a chance at fame, and maybe even love.
The book is 375 pages and is pretty stuffed with character development and plot, to the point of becoming, towards the end, a bizarre blend of wish fulfillment and every empowering experience Weiner can think of. Weiner did admit that the novel was written to explore the possibilities if some things in her life had come out differently, and it shows. Cannie does things like befriend a movie star, and that's not the least believable part of the novel, either.
With maybe a hundred pages left in the book, I started getting tired of seeing Weiner's every fantasy played out in front of me. Then the book ricocheted into a fairly depressing and much shorter section before the inevitable happy ending. I felt the book had to be more even and that some aspects should have been cut down--Cannie's empowerment was nice to see, but some of it came at the cost of believability. Weiner also said that she gave Cannie her "3 AM" voice--every witty thing she thinks to say at 3 AM, long after the person she wants to say it to is gone--and that was a definite drawback. Cannie just felt too funny at times, too prepared for all situations with some kind of comeback. No one would be that prepared to snark all the time.
I did have some issues relating to the story, given that I am not a plus-sized woman. In fact, at a few points early in the novel, I felt almost bad for the skinny characters that Weiner was having Cannie and other characters snark on. I understood their motivations, but it did lead to mixed feelings. There's a scene where Cannie and other women are at a weight-loss clinic, hoping to be picked for a clinical trial for a weight-loss drug. They have to take behavior modification classes beforehand. Weiner amusingly has the characters know all the answers to the class since everyone's been on a different diet (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.) but then they use this to gang up on the skinny nurse teaching the class and try and force her to give them the drugs. I didn't think this was fair and while I know it was meant to be funny, I couldn't really see it as such.
The story itself was a pretty good one, if not very original. One of the reviews cited in the front of my book says something to the effect of "Beach Book Queen of the Day." I think "Queen of the Day" is an accurate description--it's an easy read, pretty forgettable, and the next day you're ready to move on to something new. That being said, it has sparked my interest in Weiner's other, hopefully better and more complex novels. I'm curious to read the sequel and a few other books by Weiner, so while this wasn't her best, I'm hoping to attribute it to the weaknesses of a first novel.
Even if the story had me taking my disbelief back from where I'd suspended it, I liked Cannie and the other characters. Maxi, the movie star, was a good one, and so was the kind doctor, Peter Krushelevansky. Particularly important are Cannie's mother and her life partner, Tonya, as Cannie's mother is a late-in-life lesbian. Cannie and her siblings do not accept Tonya because of her many idiosyncrasies, and that path to acceptance is a marginal part of the book towards the end. That subplot led to some funny moments, one of which is Cannie and her siblings reciting Larkin's "This Be the Verse" ("They f*** you up, your parents do...") while burning a rainbow muff given to them by Tonya.
Overall, while the story needed work and trimming, and the characters sometimes felt a little too funny, Good in Bed was a decent read that raised my curiosity about the author's other works, a sign of at least a good novel. Recommended to fans of chick lit who haven't already read this one, or to someone like me who hasn't read any and wants to start somewhere.