Thursday, July 14, 2011

Redefining Chick lit the Jennifer Weiner Way

Last month, bestselling author, screenwriter for ABC Family’s new hit show State of Georgia and influential tweeter, Jennifer Weiner, celebrated the 10 year anniversary since her break through novel Good In Bed. 

It was the first Weiner I read and it left a marked impression on me.  Mainly, that a so-called "chick lit" novel could have a darker side.  No, am not getting all Vader on you, Cannie did not unleash her light sabre and castrate the bastardly ex-boyfriend for writing about her in his newspaper article "Loving a Larger Woman."  Instead, she lets his opinion define her happiness and is plunged into a spiral of sadness and self-doubt.  And you thought chick lit was all about Christian Louboutin’s, calories and credit card bills.  Oh you! 

Chick lit,--ahem—I mean, "contemporary women’s fiction" *insert winning Colgate smile here* can be substantial.  It can be meaty.  The literary lamb shank over a risotto Milanese, that is so rich and satisfying you can’t eat anything else for a week.  The genre, or menu if you will, is so wide, it can also be light and pappy.  There’s a place for both, I guess, but I have a hearty appetite.

 Jennifer Weiner, Jane Green and Emily Giffin are three of the top selling writers in this genre and, believe me, none of them focus on fluffy light fare.  They write stories that are all meat: satisfying, juicy, tender; sometimes, they give me heartburn and chronic indigestion, but I’m there with their endearing heroines, enduring infidelity, infamy, cancer, chronic depression, etc... 

Sounds a laugh a minute, I know, but really, these characters react to these shit-uations in a way that leaves you cheering for more.   I have just finished reading Giffin's Heart of the Matter and it creased me, CREASED ME, that I could empathize with both the wife and the mistress; that both couldn't 'win.'  It's a testament to Giffin's writing that she took a black and white--ehem--affair like cheating and made it so grey, so human, so compelling, so ... relatable.
That's me with Emily in the photograph.  Uh huh, yeah.  She's the beautiful blonde.   I'm the one looking expensively cheap.

Jennifer Weiner’s new novel, Then Came You—which I am itching to read— was inspired by an article she had read in the New York Times, about an affluent woman paying an educated, yet less wealthy, woman to be her surrogate.  Jen wrote in a recent email to her readers, “I wanted to look at how larger questions of financial inequities inform the process of having a baby by surrogate – how it’s always women of means hiring less-well-off women to perform a physical task; how it is, at its core, a transactional relationship that sometimes morphs into a friendly or even familial one. I’m interested in questions of how people treat each other, and how money, and guilt over having it, or resentment over not having more, comes into play.”  Meaty!  Nom nom.

So why am I telling you all this?  Stick with me!  Well, to mark the occasion of Good In Bed’s anniversary Jen launched a competition. The challenge:  in more than 125 words, but no more than 175, write about the most memorable thing that has occurred to you in the last ten years. 

Ten years is about eight photo albums for me, ACTUAL albums, like scrapbooks, not digitally stored, but albums with photo corners and page protectors—I know, ain’t it wild?; then there are the photos stored on my computer and the random ones available for the Facebook Nation.  Am not boasting that I am some photo hog or sad scrapbooking fiend, merely that there are a darn rootin’ tootin’ megatonne of memories.  Think about it, TEN YEARS, TEN FRIGGIN’ YEARS!   Roll photo montage and Beatles accompaniment: “There are places I remember…”

So I thought long and hard about what, through the cabernet clouded fog, I remembered most.  “Rhett!  Rhett!  But what’ll I say?  What’ll I do?  What’s to become of me?”  Agh.  No. Hang about, here we go: my memories, not Scarlett’s.  What did I remember most?  Was it my happiest memory? 

No.  But the microfiche that was notable, crammed with infinitesimal detail, is the memory when time slowed; when every second, of every minute, of every hour burned my consciousness.  There were no idle thoughts.  No internal discussion about what I might cobble together from the refrigerator for the evening’s repast, no casual flick through the memorized TV schedule to plan my night’s viewing.  It was hours of unadulterated awareness; waiting for the cocked trigger to fire, terrified that I might have ruined it all and I’d shot Self in the foot, or face, or heart.

This was my most memorable moment:

I was ushered into the Embassy-approved Physician, leeched of blood and was left, hanging.  This was the day I had prepared for with the focus of an Olympian and the anticipation of a newly-lingeried third date; the last cause and impediment that would separate me from the burly American who had confessed—rather inconveniently, since I was ravenously disposing of a molten chocolate bomb and happened to be spoon-licking at the time—“I don’t want to wake up another morning without you here.”

I waited.  For hours.  Would-be Emigrants came, bled and went, yet I was... 'quarantined?'   I flicked through the mental roladex of sexual indiscretion.  Of course!  The night England had actually won a sporting event and I celebrated drunkenly with some touring rugby player between my thighs! 

The Embassy would banish me. 

Oh God! 

I’d never be with the man who accepted me without medical, signed affidavit or detailed exposition of why I loved him.

I thought my heart would burst through my chest. 

“Miss Gwyn-Jones?  You’re all clear.”

Confusion, relief, joy, Visa.

Keeping to 175 words was harder than you’d think.  I hope, in spite of the brevity, the subject matter was not too gristly for you.  If so, tough.  It’s my meat. 

What’s your most memorable …er…memory from the last ten years?   Go on, I've aired my laundry--and it was found to be impeccable clean--so I'd love to read about yours.  Or, if you have any flavoursome chick-lit to recommend, please do!


  1. E- the way that you have woven the threads of this piece ... the staunch yet tender defense of Chick Lit ... the peek inside the covers of the books of others who inspire the writer in you ... the angst and anticipation (shadows of shame, yet not) of the scared, remorseful schoolgirl waiting for the principle's (doctor's) punishment (pardon)... simply beautiful. And meaty.

  2. Thank you! Yes, I feel passionate about the genre, particularly as it can be so misrepresented. Sneered at even. Jennifer, herself, raised a bit of a furore earlier this year, when she pointed out the disparity between NYT coverage of 'chick lit' and female authors in comparsion to the 'gung ho' support of any individual with both pen and penis. The fact is, if writing makes you 'feel,' if it touches you to the marrow, if it makes you think, "Oh crumbs, what would I do?" then it earns it's place in the market and should not be maligned. There are so many class female writers who achieve that, Jen Weiner, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, Jodi Picoult, Gemma Burgess, Anita Shreve, Sarah Pekanen, Laura Dave...

  3. The premise of this book had me hooked from the get-go. Having struggled with fertility myself, I found it interesting to read from three different aspects; the donor, the surrogate and the mother-to-be.

    Jennifer Weiner's books are always a must-read for me but this one left me wanting more. After getting over my instant desire to call the nearest fertility clinic and sign up for some egg donation of my own, I found the read a bit of a struggle. Whether it was the fact that I was reading two books at once or the fact that my sister had a baby 8-weeks early while I was reading, something just didn't feel right. I enjoyed the characters of Jules, Annie, and India well enough but just felt they were very stereotypical. A snotty spoiled step-daughter, investigating her gold digging step-mother. A daughter who does all she can to help her father get through his addiction and a wife, struggling in a down-turned economy, making money for her family in the most unusual way. It just felt that these characters could have been in any book and that is not typical of Jennifer Weiner's novels.

    The story line was also a bit of a struggle. I found it very hard to figure out how much time had passed between each of the story lines. One second, Jules was donating an egg and the next, India was meeting Annie. It was all very confusing.