I tried to read a Jennifer Weiner book once. I gave it a fair shake. Can’t remember which one it was (with eleven books in thirteen years, or thirteen books in eleven years — I’ve forgotten how many — it’s hard to keep them straight), but I probably got fifty pages or so in when my survival instinct piped up and said, “Life’s too short, dude.”
But let’s face it. I’m not Jennifer’s target audience.
And she does have a target audience, which is quite possibly the reason for her angst. You see, her angst seems to revolve around how female novelists aren’t taken seriously by the mavens of serious literatoor, and so she’s shut out from any consideration as our era’s Dickens. To Jennifer, only male authors are paid the necessary tributes for that, receiving the big prizes and getting all the ink in the Times Book Review.
Allow me to be blunt. When you write for a specific audience, such as (let’s get away from the gender issue) teen science nerds, you’re not going to be pressing the right buttons to nail down a Pulitzer. And I get it, I do. You’re successful. You make a lot of money. Your name is always being mentioned in magazines (Us, People, and The New Yorker!), and you’re asked to speak at major publishing conferences. You’re a huge figure in the business. Yet, it’s not enough.
I recall similar noise coming from Stephen King a few years back. It happened to John Grisham too. And Scott Turow. See, it’s not just women getting dissed by the Kool Kids.
But Weiner’s complaints are mostly gender-based, and I agree with most of them. The major awards have mainly gone to men. The book review business does ignore a lot of books aimed at women. But, I’m sorry, when I think of serious female novelists, I don’t think of Jennifer Weiner; I think of Jennifer Egan. I think of Rachel Kushner. I think of Heidi Julavits and Vendela Vida. A. M. Homes. Alice Walker. Marilynne Robinson. Ann Patchett. Zadie Smith. Arundhati Roy. Susan Sontag.
Jennifer Weiner doesn’t write that kind of stuff. (Does she?)
I don’t know if any of those authors write in front of a mirror like Weiner does (actual fact), but I do know that they practice the mainly profitless art of creating literature. It’s not aimed at 18-to 34-year-old women. It’s not aimed at an income or demographic sweet spot. What they do is universal, which is exactly the thing that distinguishes literature from whatever it is that Jennifer Weiner thinks she writes (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
So I can applaud Weiner for championing female writers who ought to be getting more attention from the arbiters of culture up there in New York City. It’s true. They should. And I can get behind the idea, as she puts it, that “sometimes we do read to make friends. Sometimes we do read to escape, or find comfort, or to spend time in a world that is a little more fair and a little more kind than the world that we inhabit.” And it’s worthy of a writer to appeal to that desire. But it irks me just a little when someone who has succeeded — she even has a woman who lays out her clothes for her, each suit bag tagged with the name of the event where Jen will wear the designer outfit — has a king-sized chip on her shoulder over what she’s being deprived of. At least that’s what I read between the lines.
But who knows? She might write something one day that compares with the stuff this woman writes. Then she’ll get everything she deserves.