Saturday, August 9, 2008

Part of a Sisterhood: A Long-Standing TBR gets vanquished at last

Every time I go, I check. It's never there. It led me to speculate that the library didn't even carry it, until I looked it up one day and learned that even though it's almost ten years old, it remains that damn popular. But this time, there it was on the shelf. I picked it up. The cover was faded and battered, and the protective plastic pitted with sand. The pages were stained with coffee, and the binding is on the verge of giving way. Everything about this book said it had been loved by women in my area since the library purchased it, and I was next.

The book I'm speaking of is Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner. It's one of those books that helped put chick lit -- books by women, for women -- on the map, and after spending an enjoyable day and a half with it, I can see why. Weiner skillfully blends realism with fantasy in the book, so that you can both identify with her heroine Cannie and look up to her at the same time. So that you hurt when she hurts, cheer when things go her way, laugh along with her. So that you close the book feeling like you can attain your dreams just like she did.

The title of the book refers to her ex-boyfriend's new magazine column. Cannie spent three years with Bruce, during which time he barely worked at all, but magically managed to land a job writing the guy's perspective for a women's magazine. And the first column was all about her. "Loving a Larger Woman" was its title, and although she's initially angry and embarassed enough to throw a box of tampons at his head, upon re-read, it's so sweet that she decides she wants him back.

People like this book for Cannie. She's eminently likeable: smart, funny, confident, and working hard to overcome a sad past. Her parents were divorced when she was a teenager, and her dad abandoned the family, popping up periodically just long enough to hurt her. I was pleased to see this issue get treatment in a book, since it will statistically affect at least half of all women Cannie's age (if she was a real person, she'd be 37 or 38 now). The rest of her family is pretty interesting: her sister is a wild child, and her mother is now living with a woman who none of them care for. Cannie is also a size sixteen, and yet she has a good job, friends, and a love life, which made her a hit with the millions of women that are not size four and blond.

Yet, at the same time, it caters well to readers' fantasies. Cannie also becomes friends with a famous movie actress, meets her celebrity friends and sells a screenplay. The ending (which I won't spoil) involves the best type of revenge on her ex. And although things are hard, everything does essentially end up working out.

There are some minor inconsistancies in the book, mostly having to do with character. They're nitpicky, but still annoyed me. At one point, Cannie reflects on lifestyle changes entailed by her impending motherhood by realizing that she won't be able to buy a $200 pair of boots whenever she wants anymore, yet at another point in the book, she confides that she gets her hair done at the local beauty school. Bruce has worked very little in his adult life, yet manages to go from being an unemployed slacker to a featured magazine columnist, while Cannie's years of hard journalistic work hasn't even allowed her to become the head of her department at the newspaper? When Cannie's partying with a celebrity in L.A., she states that her wildest nights generally consist of ice cream and books, yet at other points in the novel, she talks about staying out late with her girlfriends and drinking. Stuff like that -- nitpicky to mention, but they add up.

However, they're not enough to overwhelm a generally favorable impressiong. The book has aged pretty well, unlike some of the other chick lit books which are riddled with brand names and pop culture references. I like Jennifer Weiner a lot, and although her writing's definitely evolved since this book, I still recommend it if you haven't yet seen where it all started for her.