Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book Review: Jennifer Weiner, Good In Bed

Author: Jennifer Weiner
Publisher/Year: Washington Square Press, 2001

Jennifer Weiner’s debut novel Good In Bed is one of the few ‘chick lit’ novels that surpasses the low standard set for its genre by providing a heroine that is more mature and introspective than most of her literary peers. Weiner’s novel was a runaway hit when it was released, and deservedly so. Good in Bed is a witty, satirical, heart-breaking, uplifting novel that goes far beyond the suggestive nature of the cover art and title to provide a realistic examination of one woman’s insecurities regarding our ‘appearance is everything’ culture.

Good in Bed centers on 28-year old Cannie (short for Candace) Shapiro, a successful writer for a paper in Philadelphia who, until recently, was in a long-term relationship with boyfriend Bruce. Cannie learns of their break-up through an article written by Bruce that is published in a national magazine. In fact, the article focuses solely on Cannie, much to her horror. While the article does not mention her by name, she knows all too well she is “C”. Bruce details Cannie’s weight and her private struggles with her body image. He even manages to congratulate himself for having the courage to date a “larger woman”. Like most women, Cannie is obsessed with how she is perceived by others, and her once healthy feelings of self-worth are shattered as her private life becomes fodder for very public laughter and critique.

Cannie is, quite understandably, humiliated and angry with being the topic of her ex’s writing assignment. She locks herself up initially, succumbing to the lure of solitude and alcohol. It is at this point that she begins to convince herself that if she were thin, Bruce would want her back. Battling her self-image issues, she decides to join a study about people wanting to lose weight. It is in this study that she discovers she is pregnant (the result of one misguided encounter with Bruce) and eventually finds the acceptance and love she has longed for most of her life.

Throughout the novel, Cannie spins out of control again and again as she struggles to achieve some stability and understanding. The pregnancy forces her to revisit her past and deal with her father, a painful decision and equally painful encounter for her and the reader. She must also deal with Bruce’s lack of response to the news he is to be a father, and the tragic event that ensues when she comes face-to-face with him and his new girlfriend.

Accompanying Cannie on her journey to full acceptance is an interesting cast of characters. Besides her abusive, neglectful father, we meet her mom who is recently lesbianized and her partner Tanya, whose gravelly voice is easy to imagine. There is also her rebellious, free-spirited sister and withdrawn brother, and various friends and colleagues. These characters are little more than one-dimensional in composition, but they are still key components in Cannie’s self-discovery process and provide some of the more entertaining moments of the novel.

More central to the plot is Maxie, the Hollywood star Cannie is sent to interview and who ends up becoming one of Cannie’s most trusted allies. This relationship is one of the more unbelievable bits of the novel, but given the nature of the story Weiner is telling it is an acceptable narrative point.

Perhaps most importantly though, there is the marvelous and understanding Dr. K , the doctor who runs the study Cannie joins near the start of the novel. He becomes the one person who is always there for Cannie regardless of her circumstances. She is not initially aware of the far-reaching impact he has on her life until closer to the end of the novel when she begins to truly understand who she is and what she wants in life.

At first glance, Good in Bed may seem like a throwaway beach novel but it is much more than this first impression. Weiner examines in detail the psyche of one woman living under the microscope of crippling body image standards. She wisely and thankfully resists the easy option of having Cannie being only a victim. Instead, she positions Cannie as both victim and winner, with neither title nor psychological mindset superceding the other for any length of time. This in itself is a major literary achievement

There is a very personal, inviting style to Weiner’s writing that draws the reader in and compels them to continue accompanying Cannie on her adventures. Cannie is a heroine that every woman can identify with, whether they are struggling with weight issues or not. Weiner’s writing makes it entirely possible for a strong emotional connection between Cannie and the reader to exist, a connection that is a rarity among much of today’s fiction aimed at women.

Good in Bed is a novel meant to be read, discussed, and passed on. Weiner demonstrates how strong a fictional woman can be because of and in spite of her flaws and shortcomings. It is her unwavering belief in her main character that ultimately makes Weiner’s novel Good in Bed a literary experience not to be missed.

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