It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Jennifer Weiner book, and I remember liking her. So when I saw Big Summer available online at the library, I snapped it up without reading the blurb. It was a quick enough read – I probably spent a few hours over the course of a couple of nights and a lunch break – but I didn’t love it, and it didn’t really feel like a Jennifer Weiner book. So much so that I stopped reading and went back to the lirbary’s website to make sure I had, in fact, downloaded what I thought I had downloaded.
Daphne Berg is a small-time influencer and part time nanny to two pretty cute sounding kids in New York City. She’s a graduate of a hoity-toity private high school, shares an apartment with an old friend named Darshi (easily the best character of the book), and has great parents. She’s also fat. And not just fat, but #fat. Daphne is a plus-sized influencer, a #loveyourbody guru, and when the book opens, she’s landing a great gig with an up-and-coming fashion designer who wants to make her the exclusive face (and body) of the line.
At about the same time, Drue Cavanaugh, Daphne’s former best friend and the most glamorous creature ever to cross her path, shows back up in Daphne’s life. Daphne and Drue had a falling out six years ago, after a disastrous set-up attempt that culminated in Daphne’s reaction going viral (and launching her influencer career). Drue’s getting married to Stuart, the former star of a Bachelor-type show who left his Bachelor-fiancee in a spectacularly public way, and she needs bridesmaids. Specifically, a maid of honor. Daphne is reluctant, but, as Darshi says, Drue is Daphne’s Kryptonite.
The morning of the wedding – a million dollar affair on Cape Cod, natch – after Drue’s parents have a shouting match about the cost of the wedding in front of their guests at the rehearsal dinner, and after Daphne has met a mystery man and slept with him three times in one evening, including a hot tub romp that felt at best ill-advised, Drue turns up dead. In the same hot tub where Daphne and Mystery Man did the deed not twelve hours before.
There are good parts here. Daphne struggles with her body image, something a lot of us can relate to. And Weiner is vague about Daphne’s true size, and because she is, I think it’s easy for readers to identify with Daphne. Who among us – even the most objectively beautiful and fit and skinny and all those other things – hasn’t felt like she didn’t quite measure up physically? So in that sense, Daphne’s a sympathetic character, someone who wants to see the good in people, no matter how terribly they treat her. And Weiner paints Drue with just enough of the poor little rich girl that you almost want to forgive her, too. The blurb says that this is a “sparkling novel about the complexities of female friendship”, and that’s not inaccurate. Female friendship is complex: you love and and hate and are jealous of and are champion of, almost all at the same time, and Weiner does a pretty decent job of exploring that. She’s also good at weaving in memories and backstories: the time Daphne’s grandmother put her on a diet for the summer and it affected her body image; the incident when Drue humiliated Daphne in front of the class; the moment when Daphne realized that Drue just wanted her father to love her.
But ultimately, Weiner overdoes it with the mysteries and coincidences, and it took me out of the story. (SPOILERS!) It turns out that Drue’s father was unfaithful to her mother, and fathered several children, including the original murder suspect and the mystery man that Daphne hooks up with at the rehearsal dinner. Drue knew this, and somehow amended her will to include bequests to each of them. Drue’s family’s company was broke, facing bankruptcy, and she had money sitting in a trust fund that she could only access once she was married, so she secretly wed Stuart at city hall six months earlier, and launched the wedding – complete with all the online hashtags and corporate sponsorships – that she and Stuart needed to begin their influencer life. Stuart was secretly still together with his Bachelor-fiancee; they were just biding their time until he and Drue could divorce. Drue was secretly dating a schlubby guy that was very sweet and so much like Daphne’s dad that it bordered on a little bit weird, who was willing to wait while she did all these crazy shenanigans for the money. When the killer’s identity was revealed, I was genuinely surprised, not because of misdirection but because there had been no character development pointing to it, and it came out of the blue. Mystery Man’s mother was murdered when he was four years old (in a bizarrely tacked on prologue), and, having never known his father was also Drue’s father, was raised by an aunt and uncle and vows to never have an online presence, a stance that makes it challenging for him to pursue a relationship with Daphne, an influencer, but he decides to give up the Luddite life and move to New York City – a place he swore he never wanted to live – to try out that relationship with a woman with whom he never really had a real date.
If this had been an author I was unfamiliar with, I’d give it four stars, but it’s Weiner, and I know she can do better.
I sound like my mom.