I love Jennifer Weiner. I love that she invents terms like Franzenfreude. And that she fights back against sexism in book reviews and isn’t afraid to name names. I love reading her essays and interviews and I have even watched her “vlog” on YouTube. I think she’s super smart and funny and I’m certain I would melt if I had the chance to meet her or listen to her speak live.
While I’m a fan, it had been well over a decade since I had actually read one of her books. Last month I was reading her brilliant essay about A Little Life being “Goldfinched” and decided to pick up her books again. I chose her newest novel, Who Do You Love.
This is the story of Rachel and Andy who meet briefly but memorably when they are adolescents and then come together and break apart several times throughout their lives (ending up together, of course – hope that’s not a spoiler). Rachel is from an upper-middle class, white, Jewish family. Andy is biracial and raised by his white single mom in a poor, predominately black area of Philadelphia. The chapters switch between both characters’ POV.
The Good: The writing is straight forward, clean, and humorous but without inducing eye rolls. She is an expert at pacing and putting in little hooks to keep the pages turning. The ending was predictable, but satisfying enough.
The Disappointing: The actual story itself was kind of bland and I didn’t find it so compelling. This may be because I was reading this on the train or during my lunch breaks and reading Elena Ferrante in the evenings (I know it’s not fair to compare the two…). I can’t claim the characters were one dimensional, but they were not developed to the point that you could fully understand them. I couldn’t imagine them in any other types of situations; they were pretty much confined to their specific story lines. Even though the book was written in the first person, the voices didn’t stay in my head after I put it down.
I thought the class difference between Rachel and Andy was one of the most interesting parts of the story and wanted it to be explored further. Likewise, I thought Andy’s mother was the most interesting, complicated character and would have wanted to learn more about her backstory, how she felt about Andy’s success and then sudden downfall, etc.
There were two other specific choices that bothered me. <SPOILER ALERT> #1) Rachel was horrible to a classmate during a school event. She still feels guilty about it years later, but at her high school reunion the woman (who of course has turned from the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan) has completely forgiven her and is warm and friendly. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if Bethie had still, reasonably, held a grudge or at least felt uncomfortable talking to her former bully?; and, #2) Rachel and Andy only got together in the end after Rachel’s husband ended their marriage by having an affair (with her best friend, naturally). I thought it was too convenient and it would have been MUCH more interesting if she had run into Andy while she was still married and had to make a difficult decision for herself and her kids. </SPOILER ALERT>
Basically, my conclusion is that this book is OK, not great, and not memorable. I wish I could have enjoyed it more because I really respect Jennifer Weiner. I’ll just continue to read her NYT columns and interviews.