I’m a man, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like romantic comedies.  Notting Hill is my favorite, a picture-perfect execution of the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-runs-after-girl-with-the-help-of-his-quirky-friends formula, but I even enjoy the lesser, second-tier jobs like Two Weeks Notice, Runaway Bride, or this year’s The Proposal.  I enjoy these films in the same way I like action flicks such as Die Hard or Crank 2: they abide by the genre’s blueprint and let me lose myself in their silly worlds for two hours.

More often than not, the book is superior to the film, so here was my line of thinking: if I like watching romcoms, maybe I’ll love reading them.  When the opportunity came for me to get a review copy of Jennifer Weiner’s newest book, Best Friends Forever, I jumped on it.  I’ve always considered her to be the voice of chick lit, the one who has intelligently defended these female-oriented works of fiction.

After reading the first five chapters of BFF, I stopped.  Being this was her seventh novel, Weiner was being more literarily adventurous, utilizing italicized flashbacks (chapter 1), first person narration (chapter 2), third person narration (chapter 4), and temporal shifts (chapter 5 starts off with childhood memories then dovetails into the beginning of chapter 2).  At the same time, the book was divided into reader-friendly bite-sized chunks, fifty-four chapters in 360 pages, an average of six and a half pages per chapter.  Everything about it seemed wrong, a weird combination of experimentalism and slickness.

Good in Bed was her first novel, the runaway bestseller that propelled her to chick lit goddess status, and after reading the first few pages offered on Amazon, I could see why.  Right from the get-go, we have the first-person voice of Cannie Shapiro, and we discover with her the horror that awaits her, that her ex-boyfriend wrote an essay for a Details-like magazine, titled, “Loving a Larger Woman.”

“I never thought of myself as a chubby chaser,” I read.  “But when I met C., I fell for her wit, her laugh, her sparkling eyes.  Her body, I decided, was something I could learn to live with.”

“I’ll KILL HIM!”

“So kill him already and shut up about it,” muttered Gabby, shoving her inch-thick glasses up her nose.

Her voice was immediate, it was funny, and I was heartbroken when the Amazon preview stopped at page six.  I couldn’t click fast enough to get this book into my shopping cart.

Reading a book is like being in a relationship.  In the beginning, it’s all new and thrilling and exciting and you just can’t quite get enough of the compelling characters and their wacky situations.  I read the first hundred pages of Good in Bed in two hours.  Weiner is a wonderful storyteller, a genuine comic talent: the scene in the weight loss center where the women start chanting for drugs is sitcom gold, the dialogue timed impeccably, one zinger following another.  But then like the long middle of a relationship, where the couple knows each other quite well (maybe too well), the same goes for the book.  It took me five months to read the next two hundred or so pages.

Part of my difficulty arose from the physical book, its unabashedly feminine cover.  In the beginning, when I was toting it around and reading it while riding public transportation or sipping coffee at my neighborhood Panera, I felt righteous and good that I, a man, was reading a book like this.  How generous and sensitive of me to reach over to the other side, to attempt to understand the plight of plus-sized women everywhere!  At least this is the way I felt when the book was going well, but as my reading slowed, so did my noble conviction.  Maybe that wasn’t a smirk of encouragement from that mother of two over there, but rather a creeped-out smile of discomfort.  After all, why would a man be reading a book that featured a pair of naked legs on pink bedsheets on its cover?  The guy had to be an A-plus weirdo.

Still, I kept going, picking up the book and making myself read another few pages as I ate my lunch.  It wasn’t because the book was dragging in the middle.  In fact, Weiner does a fine job of pushing the story forward: clashes with family close and far, a crazy trip out to Hollywood, an unplanned pregnancy with further complications.  Still, the tropes of chick lit were wearing me down.  A lot of it had to do with clothes.  Two-thirds into the book, I was still reading about what Cannie was wearing: “I walked home, took a quick shower, pulled on a variation on my standard outfit (black velvet leggings, giant tunic top, lace-up Chuck Taylor low-tops in a subtle shade of periwinkle that I’d bought for $10)…”  Or if not what she was wearing, what her friend Maxi was wearing: “She’d changed into a pair of black pedalpushers and a cherry-red cap-sleeved T-shirt, with big black sunglasses and what I took to be fake ruby barrettes in her hair…”  Just complaining about this tinges me with shame, as if I’ve become some sort of a male chauvinist, but my feeling on extraneous details of this sort goes beyond gender or genre.  Tom Clancy and his techno-gibberish and Herman Melville and his encyclopedic dissertation on whaling annoy me just as much.

Eventually, I got to the last seventy pages of the book, and my reading kicked back into higher gear.  In a little more than an hour, I was done, enjoying the brief dose of bleakness in the plot and reveling in the expected happy ending.  When I think back, I believe my experience with this novel is no different than what I usually go through with romcoms on the silver screen: the first act is enticing, the second act has a lull, and the third act speeds to its cute conclusion.  It’s just that with a book, everything is elongated, especially the middle.  Maybe it was just too much of a good thing.

Though I never like to say never, I’m fairly certain I’ll never read another chick lit novel.  Instead I’ll stick to chick flicks, and I hope Good in Bed will eventually receive its well-deserved Hollywood adaptation.  Weiner’s dialogue is so good that the screenwriter should be able to lift them out wholly and slug them into Final Draft.  In the interview section at the end of the book, Weiner is asked who would be a good candidate to play Cannie.  She doesn’t have an answer, but I do: the super-talented Melissa McCarthy would make a great one.

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SUNG J. WOO is a writer living in New Jersey. Some of his short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney's, KoreAm Journal, and The New York Times. His debut novel, Everything Asian (April 2009), has been praised by the Christian Science Monitor and received a starred review from Kirkus.

15 responses to “Book Review (of sorts): Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed

  1. […] A book review/reaction piece I wrote for The Nervous Breakdown. […]

  2. This is hilarious, Sung! I’ve never read Weiner, but you almost make me want to. I did read Bridget Jones back in 1998 in Amsterdam, though, and I admit I laughed my ass off many a time–it was a pretty good read.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Thanks, Gina. Not to generalize, but I do think most women would enjoy Weiner’s works more than I did. She really is quite a fine writer, and her comic chops are in great evidence in this first novel.

      I loved the first Bridget Jones movie. The second one, not so much…

      – Sung

  3. I know what you mean about books being like relationships… I totally agree. I always blow through the first 100 pages in a short time, but then even the best of books struggle to maintain that sort of chemistry.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Hi David,

      It really is a challenge, especially nowadays, with my attention fractured as it is. The only way to battle it is to just keep reading, but I tell ya, it used to be easier than this when I was younger. More time, less distractions, etc.

      – Sung

      • Indeed. I’m fortunate (depending on how you look at it) to have to spend two hours a day on the subway, so I’ve got at least two hours of prime reading time. But for some reason, even with a good book my pace slows after around 100 pages.

        I think my problem is that I’m always thinking about the next book. I never start reading something without having another book lined up, and by the time I’m half done with the first I’m too eager to start the next.

        I am a child…

        • Sung J. Woo says:

          One of the things I miss the most about my MFA program is that NJ Transit ride from Far Hills to Hoboken. Three hours of uninterrupted reading time! Went through a whole lot of books. Makes me want to get on a train just so I can read.

          – Sung

  4. I can’t say I’ve ever really gotten into chick lit per se; it’s just never come up. I’d probably be a more well-rounded reader if I had, but it’s never really called out to me. I think I’m going to have to give the book a shot now, just to see.

    Please don’t take this as me chasing your exes, Sung.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      You certainly can’t go wrong reading somebody like Weiner — her plotting, her dialogue, the core components that make up a sustained work of fiction are all there for you to see, and she’s really quite excellent with all of it. All in all, I’m glad I read her. Just once was enough, though, for sure.

  5. Nice post, Sung. I’ve been a big fan of novels written from a female point of view–Caprice Crane is a particular stand-out author of such, but then I’m a fan of any novels that explore the mishaps of dating and relationships. I have never liked the chick lit, dick lit, lad lit, lady lit designations: good books are good books, so far as I’m concerned, and while you were embarrassed of the cover of Good In Bed, it’s not a whole lot different from Garcia Marquez’s novel of a few years back.

  6. jonathan evison says:

    . . . great post sung . .. you said weiner–huhu huhu huhu . . . i feel you on the chick-flick/chick-lit distinction . . . movies sell themselves a lot easier, end sooner, and take less out of you . . .

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Thanks, man. I think the genre lends itself to breeziness that movies inherently provide. I really do hope Good in Bed becomes a film, because it would be just dynamite. I think it would almost just write itself.

  7. Marni Grossman says:

    My sister loved “Good in Bed.” This is her bag. Not so much mine.

    But I think “chick lit” is often unfairly maligned because it’s female. There are books by men that are equally superficial that seem to somehow elude the derision that “chick lit” invites. Not just so-called “lad lit,” but stuff like Chuck Palahniuk.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Hi Marni,

      I agree with you regarding the gender bias, but I’m not sure if I’d lump Palahniuk into “dude lit” (lad lit sounds too nice!). Even though he has a huge male following, he’s a pretty savvy writer, going for more than just chest-thumping. He’s really more of a dark/nihilist writer, and in that regard, his female counterpart might be somebody like Mary Gaitskill.

      Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Stephen Coonts, now those are the type of folks that cater to testosterone, in my opinion…

      – Sung

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