Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Two new from Jennifer Weiner

I've been thinking for the past hour about where to start with tonight's post. Now that I'm writing it, I'm still no closer to an answer. I read so many books this summer and fall that it's hard to figure out where to start.

But I settled on the two Jennifer Weiner books I read recently, "Fly Away Home" and "Then Came You". These are her eighth and ninth books. I've mentioned before some of the things I like about her books: they're funny, entertaining stories about "the rest of us", without the extensive materialism that plagues so many books aimed at women (we don't ALL live to shop, you know...)

Both are present in her latest two books, although I liked "Then Came You" much more than "Fly Away Home." Although she says "Fly Away Home" wasn't inspired by a particular event, it had a vague, ripped-from-the-headlines feel, heightened by the unfortunate coincidence that Weiner shares a last name with a recent philandering politician. That's the subject matter of this book: what happens to the wife and two adult daughters of a respected senator after his affair with a girl young enough to be a daughter herself is revealed.

I hate to say it, but it was kind of dull. The characters felt rather stock: the kooky, screwed-up youngest fresh from rehab, her love interest, the uptight, little-miss-perfect-with-a-secret older daughter, her schlubby husband, and the wife who's repressed her own personality for a very long time in service of her husband. In fact, I bet you can guess a few key things about the plot just from the character descriptions here (what do you suppose the older daughter's "secret" is?). It wasn't bad overall, but not her best one.

Certainly not as good as "Then Came You." This book deals with the subjects of surrogacy and egg donation. It's told from several points of view. Julie, the egg donor, is a college student who sells her eggs to fund rehab treatments for her father, a depressive who lost everything when he turned to drugs and alcohol. Annie struggles to stretch her husband's small military salary and becomes a surrogate mother. She's carrying the baby of India, the new wife of a New York City financier. But his daughter Bettina doesn't trust India one bit, and even has her investigated. Each of these women have their own chapters in the book, and it's interesting to see how the story weaves together and how the characters develop.

Julie's goes in a fairly surprising direction. India, it turns out, is hiding a sad past behind her face lift and fake first name. Bettina and Annie are both struggling with their socioeconomic status: Annie has everything she ever wanted but enough money to allow her to live a decent life, and Bettina is so worried about being seen as spoiled or entitled that she overcompensates. The baby that Annie's carrying, along with an unexpected tragedy, brings everyone together. In fact, I'd say this is one of her better books.

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