Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

The Next Best Thing
Jennifer Weiner
Contemporary Fiction
Published: 2012

image: Goodreads
I hadn't read a Jennifer Weiner book in awhile, and I loved In Her Shoes, including the movie with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. I like her mix of contemporary, romance, and family issues which usually relate to a 20-30-something woman trying to find herself.

I listened to the audiobook version, and the narrator made this an easy listen. It's a light read that feels more like a single title romance than literary fiction, but the author blurs those lines pretty regularly.

What drew me to this book was the the insidery look at TV pilot development, as the main character Ruth has just sold her TV comedy, loosely based on her own life being raised by a grandmother and living together as adults, to a network. Yes, there are Golden Girls references. 

Ruth struggles with how to fit in in Hollywood; as a writer with experience on another TV show, she feels at home with the writers, but scarring from an accident (which killed her parents) has left her face and parts of her body deformed, so she is constantly self-conscious. Her relationship with her grandmother is fun and sweet. The narrative is kind of all over the place, which was a little irritating. Chapters of backstory fill the beginning with not much happening in the present, and long chunks of exposition are stuck say, in the middle of a phone call which made me wonder, is the person on the line just hanging on for eons of silence while the narrator internally explains her childhood? 

I appreciated the themes about respecting and empowering women. The unfortunate irony is that the Ruth is essentially a doormat. Ruth never quite wins until maybe the very end. That in itself is fine, but Ruth is so passive, she only internalizes her need to speak up for herself, but never really does. It's like listening to someone vent about a problem and then they don't take any steps to correct it. 

The other issue that bothered me [potential spoiler] is how Ruth is told that one of her love interests, who she understands to be in a relationship, has a girlfriend "that's all for show," and she doesn't question this until much later. What does that even mean? That would be my first question, how/why someone's supposed relationship was an act. Red flag, yes?

I'd recommend the audiobook; I'm pretty picky on narrators and this reader had a voice that meshed well with the character and made the read enjoyable despite my hang-ups. 

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