The Next Best Thing

In Jennifer Weiner’s latest outing, The Next Best Thing, she tackles the world of Television (a world she has recently visited while creating the short-lived sitcom State of Georgia). Weiner’s heroine this time is writer Ruth Saunders whose physical flaw isn’t being overweight—like Cannie in Good in Bed—but lies in her scarred face from a traumatic accident she suffered as a child.

Despite the glaringly obvious symbolism of being physically deformed in the shallow world of Hollywood, this breezy beach read is a great chick lit romp. Ruth’s script gets picked up for a pilot and eventually a show, giving readers an inside look at how these shows are produced while also offering up many of the same criticisms of the industry touched on in Top of the Rock. Her career storyline is populated with one-dimensional characters and feels predictable until the end when an almost-jaded Ruth attempts to do something unconventional (those last chapters made up for all the other flaws in the book).

Her romantic life, however, is dull. After getting romantically burned by her first office romance, Ruth overcompensates with her second one. Dave has a physical deformity to match Ruth’s—he’s paralyzed from the waist down—and even amateur readers can tell that they’ll get together in the end, no matter how many misdirections Weiner throws in. (Although she does give readers a kinky sex scene to fill that Fifty Shades of Grey void.)

Predictability is an inevitable hazard in the chick lit world (just like in rom-coms), and it is hard to begrudge a writer for that considering she was able to put a huge smile on my face at the end of the book. Weiner also plays with expectations in her exploration of settling for the next best thing. Ruth begins to see that the path to realizing her dreams is full of compromise, and she accepts that she’ll have to settle for less than the best. This thematic examination actually lowers the readers’ expectations, giving Weiner the perfect opportunity to pull a reversal of fortune twist in the final stretch.

In this case, the end does justify the means, and The Next Best Thing is really the next best thing to read this summer. (The best thing to read is, of course, Gone Girl.)

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4 Comments

  1. I enjoyed attending an author event of Weiner’s recently and look forward to reading the book: http://charleneoldham.com/2012/07/19/id-love-to-meet-that-deadline-but-ive-got-to-bake-some-cupcakes/

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