Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017

I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.


3 Stars

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

All Fall DownAll Fall Down

by Jennifer Weiner

Hardcover, 400 pg.
Atria Books, 2014
Read: July 10 – 12, 2014

Out for the day with her daughter, our protagonist encounters a homeless woman about her own age. A few minutes later, on their way to suburbia, she thinks:

I was a world away from the woman we’d seen. That woman — she was what addiction looked like. Not me. Not me.

And that, my friends, is what heavy-handed irony looks like. When Chapter 1 ends this way, you know it’s going to be a rough ride.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this one — from the description alone, it was clear that Weiner was going for something out of the norm for her — this wasn’t going to be comedic, not that romantic. Instead it’d be dark, dealing with a very serious subject matter. The prose wouldn’t be as breezy, the character probably wouldn’t be that likeable. Sounded good to me — I wanted to see how she could pull it off. It’d be different, but I figured she could (and I welcomed that). Would this be the thing that got her that literary cred she seems to be looking for?

It was a valiant effort. But it just didn’t work for me.

She was close though. Really close. Which just served to underline how she didn’t reach her goal.

Allison Weiss (who I couldn’t help but seeing as an out-of-shape version of Orphan Black‘s Alison Hendrix) is a mom (of an impossible child), a successful blogger (possibly too successful to believe), wife, daughter of a man in early stages of Alzheimer’s, and a pill-popper in deep denial.

Part 1 sets the scene for us — introduces us to the major characters, Allison’s friends, family, and boss — and her pills. Part 2 shows how the wheels start to come off for her — in terms of work, her marriage, her family and her addiction. Part 3 gets her into rehab and coming to terms with her problem. Part 4 picks up following that in a rushed wrap-up.

Part 1 was okay enough — it got the job done. Part 2 was rough — it’s hard enough watching a character you like, that you’re invested in run into trouble — but an unsympathetic character surrounded by characters she hasn’t let us get to know well enough to like? It’s just so rough. I had to force myself through this part, knowing that rehab was on the horizon. That part was worse — the rehab facility, clients, workers, counselors — all of that jibed with what I know about rehab facilities and 12-step programs; and even Allison’s reaction seemed textbook. But something about that part bothered me. Maybe because it was all so textbook. Weiner’d done her homework and she let it be shown. But it’s more than that — here was her chance to make us like Allison, see her doing the work she needed to do. For the reader to start to like her. But it didn’t happen.

Part 4 was the worst. In her rush for a conclusion, Weiner left a lot of things hanging. Which isn’t the same as unresolved — I’m not talking about a need to tie everything up in a pretty little bow. Weiner simply abandoned so many things in that it took away from the closure she gave (or at least strongly suggested).

I actually had a laundry list of complaints and problems with this, but I’m going to forgo it. It’d be hard to avoid spoilers and I just don’t think it’d be that interesting to read. Let me just leave it as — I was disappointed in this one and would advise passing on it.


2 Stars

Dusted Off: The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

The Next Best ThingThe Next Best Thing

by Jennifer Weiner

Hardcover, 389 pg.
Atria Books, 2012
Read: Jul. 9-10, 2012

A sort of uninspired rom-com from Weiner about a TV writer finding a measure of success, love and stepping out on her own from the cocoon she was raised in. The saving grace is that with a writer as entertaining and skilled as Weiner, even the uninspired can be fun to read.

On the whole, it reads like a dramatization of Ben Blacker’s podcast about TV writing (Nerdist Writer’s Panel) with a couple of personal plotlines thrown in to the mix. So the non-family, non-romance stuff reads like a pretty authentic behind the scenes–nice for those of us who are into that kind of thing.

The sexual content was a bit more explicit than I’m used to from Weiner (as limited as my experience might be–my wife’s is more extensive and she agrees)–it’s not terrible, but just not what I expected from this writer, using this character to tell this story–seems out of place.

Not Weiner at her best, but a good way to kill a few hours.


3 Stars