Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Certain Girls, by Jennifer Weiner

My dear sister-in-law lent me "Good In Bed," Weiner's first novel and the antecedent to this book. That book starts out with Cannie Shapiro finding out that her recently ex boyfriend Bruce has written a column for a women's magazine. The column is called "Good in Bed" and his first column is "Loving a Larger Woman." That woman is Cannie.
She goes ballistic, and I gave up the book. After all, his column was basically about how he loved her more than she loved herself. And it's not like anybody who knew Cannie was "C." didn't know that Cannie was a "larger woman." I failed to see the betrayal, and thought it was a lot of fuss over not much so I gave the book back.

Then my on-line book club chose "Certain Girls." I went back and read "Good In Bed," which was better than I thought it would be. "Certain Girls" takes place 10 years later: Cannie's (and Bruce's) daughter Joy is now 13, and just coming into her own adulthood, signified by her upcoming bat mitzvah. Cannie has married Peter, the "diet doctor" she met in the first book. Peter and Cannie are deciding whether to have their child. Joy is going through the teen emotional roller coaster, and becomes convinced she was never wanted, so she runs away. In the end, Peter dies, Cannie is pregnant, Joy turns into a fabulous big sister, blah blah blah.

The book is told in first person, alternating between Cannie and Joy. Cannie is boring. She is happy where she is and doesn't want anything to change. Ever. Joy is stretching for something and not certain what it is she is looking for. Guess who is more interesting?

Joy's life becomes a quest for the truth about her family and her past. She finds the book her mother wrote, also called "Good in Bed" which is not exactly the same as the book that Jennifer Weiner wrote with that title. Cannie's book has a lot more sex in it, for commercial purposes. Joy starts trying to discover what is true and what is fiction, and what is her place in the world.

I'm not certain I can say anything better than what I posted on the online book club:

Plus, you know what? Cannie is BORING.

Peter wants a baby. Cannie is afraid it will change things.

Her publisher wants a new edition of "Big Girls" and a sequel. Cannie doesn't want to relive that part of her life, or change what she has now.

Joy is growing up. Cannie wants to still be the parent who can make things better so Joy won't change.

Joy wants to include her father, Bruce, in her bat mitzvah. Cannie is furious because she doesn't want to change how much Bruce is in their lives.

Joy wants a bat mitzvah like all the other kids are having. Cannie wants one exactly like the one she had and won't compromise.

So, all the growth and movement of this novel so far is by Joy. All Cannie does is try to stop everything. No wonder I like Joy better.
There might be some mileage in comparing this book to the earlier one: both Cannie and Joy flee their own lives and go to LA, both come "home." Both have parent issues and both books end with the birth of a baby, which changes everybody's perspectives.

That said, this is about half the book it should have been. Cannie really doesn't change, and you would think that she might have learned a couple of things about her own parents by becoming a parent herself--like no matter what you thought at the time, adults don't usually leave families because the kids weren't "good enough." There are (who knew) plenty of issues they have themselves.

Cannie also beats herself up about not being a "good enough" mother because she can't keep Joy "safe." But that's ridiculous--no one can keep anyone else perfectly safe. Just not possible.

So, while Joy grows and matures throughout the book, Cannie never does, and she should have. So there is half the book crippled right there. Add to that the rushed ending, and it seems the book should have been at least 100 pages longer. Again, only half the book it could have been.

There is no denying that Weiner has grown as a writer over the 10 years between these two books: Certain Girls is a much better book than Good In Bed, but neither will live on the the pantheon of literature. Final summation? Get these books from the library, or wait until the paperbacks are on sale--these are not keepers.

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