Monday, March 24, 2008

The Guy Not Taken

I haven't read Jennifer Weiner since Good in Bed. And, while I enjoyed the novel very much, I still haven't forgiven her for it. My lingering anger, plus the nastiness of the scene from In Her Shoes included at the back of my paperback copy of Good in Bed as a teaser for her second novel, put me off her work for a while.

Have you read Good in Bed? If you have, you probably remember that the main character is fat. I mean, really fat. Fat like she takes up more than her fair share of the seat on public transportation and people sneer at her. Fat like she goes to a physician for necessary medical weight loss assistance. Fat like people make comments, and she rarely gets dates, and when she does get a first via the internet, she never gets asked back for a second date.

The author goes on and on and on in this vein, and she does have some interesting things to say about being a fat young woman in America, taking care to show that it's not just how the character feels, but that her fatness is an objective state, noted by all. Then Weiner chickens out (because, like many of her characters, Cannie is loosely modeled on herself) and has the character tell us that that she's a size 14. 14! The size of the average American woman! So fat that everyone stares, that it's a given that she needs urgent medical help, that she oozes over onto neighboring bus seats. Whatever. I lost a lot of respect for Weiner over the weight thing, as she further reinforced harmful cultural weight attitudes.

(For the record, when I'm thin and fit enough to feel proud of my body, and a few people are quietly asking if I've been ill, or if I have an eating disorder, I am a size 10-12. That's what you get when have a 12-0-12 figure like mine; you'll never be a size 2. Currently, I am not thin and fit. I am wearing size 16 jeans, and I do not ooze anywhere, thankyouverymuch. I fit just fine in airplane seats and I am not in need of medical intervention, just a bit more exercise.)

I know that Weiner is a good writer and storyteller, but I just never got around to picking up another of her books (or seeing that movie with Cameron Diaz) until this weekend, when I gobbled up The Guy Not Taken, a collection of short stories by Weiner.

They're good, and they deal heavily with two main themes: divorce and the difficulties of being a mother to a very young child.

Weiner describes The Mother's Hour as being "as close to a horror story as I'll ever come," a good description of one of the scariest stories I've read in a long time. It's well-written and, like many of the stories, touches on some important issues, in this case ageism and, especially, classism. And motherhood and divorce.

This line, in particular, really resonated with me: She had, she realized, gotten out of the habit of loving him during the first few years of their daughter's life, when every minute of every day was a struggle, and while she'd learned to get along with him, she'd never learned to love him again.

Paul and I have spent a lot of time and money on therapy and on making sure that this doesn't happen with us, but I understand the sentiment oh so very well. It's so easy to focus on just getting through the days, just waiting for bedtime, for a little peace and quiet, for a moment to ourselves, for an end to the battles over diapers and potties and vegetables and indoor voices.

People always say, "It goes by so fast." And we hear, "Just hold on, it will pass." But what they're also really saying is, "Live in these moments. Try to enjoy them, feel them, experience them, share them, don't just endure them. Don't just look ahead to the next thing."

This is it. This is life. And there's no use waiting for it to get better: make a life of this collection of experiences you're living, no matter how difficult it seems. (Although, sometimes, I really do look forward to being able to tell the kids that I'm running out to Borders; please call me on my mobile if anything comes up and they need me.)


  1. Living in the moment is tougher than it sounds since we are always so busy trying to get through one day to rush to the events of the next day. You are so right, this is life and it can only be what you make of your situation.

    Jennifer Weiner's take on fat people has always bothered me. In her shoes, the fat sister is a size 14? I'm back to a 4-6 and I would still never consider size 14 fat.

  2. I can really relate to the latter portion of your post.

    It seems that every day I struggle to not get upset with the kids over all the types of stuff you mentioned (my kids are different ages, but the concept applies!).

    Nearly every day I fail. Then I feel bad that I failed. I too want to learn to better enjoy the moment. It seems so hard, sometimes, when you are also worried about providing for the family, future plans, etc.

    When my parents were my age (42), I was already in college. It seemed like they had everything so together, personally and financially. It seems that in contrast, I'm a mess! My parents always seemed to enjoy the moment and at least did not seem worried about other things. I often wonder how accurate my perception is.

    There should be an "enjoy the moment" support group or something.

  3. I am a fan of Jennifer Weiner's, and have been since reading Good in Bed. I read a lot of her commentary on being "fat" as the projections of the character's own insecurity onto everyone else's thoughts. No, most people would not see a size 14 as fat, but that doesn't mean that someone who is a size 14 can't see herself as being grossly overweight, and seeking drastic medical help to fix the problem.

    I can totally relate to her character's self-image problems (across various books) when comparing herself with a skinny sister (or friend). In high school, I was the plump, too-smart, unpopular younger sister of an itty-bitty, pretty, popular, cheerleading sister. These days I'd love to be able to squeeze back into my size 8 prom dresses, but back then they felt enormous compared to my sister's size 0's and 2's.

    I think one of the things I've liked about Weiner's books is that she frequently ends with a theme of learning to love yourself. I think I've read all of her books so far (not necessarily immediately upon publication), and have enjoyed them all. I'm looking forward to the newest one, where she re-visits the characters from Good in Bed. It will be interesting to see where she takes their lives.

  4. CCW, exactly, and reading other mama blogs doesn't necessarily help. I mean, it's so easy to read about what others are doing with their kids (look at the gorgeous Christmas cookies CCW makes with her kids!) and feel like I'm not doing enough similar activities with my own kids, you know?

    Gregg, I agree about the support group. My dad used to go to work before we girls got up, leaving my mom to get us all dressed and off to school, then take care of us and the house all day, prepare a homemade dinner, serve it during his evening break between meetings, etc. How did she do all that by herself every single day? I couldn't do it.

    Kristi, Weiner is no better or worse than those who publish magazines with unusually skinny models, or the shows that continuously cast unusually skinny actresses, and in so doing reinforce the unhealthy standards to which we compare women. (Not to mention the pressures on these women to be so thin in order to work.)

    The difference is that she knows better; she is better than that, and she could be doing real good instead of further harm.

    The inner journeys of her female characters toward self-acceptance are happy stories. Her descriptions - by other characters, not the average-sized women themselves - as "zaftig," "enormous," and so forth help no one and do not serve to advance her stories.

    (And I say all this as someone who - at average height - came to college at less than 100 pounds.)