Jennifer Weiner gets her moment in big New Yorker profile

The instigator of literary debates becomes the subject in an examination of her work and life

Topics: Jennifer Weiner, The New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen, Fiction, Rebecca Mead, Chick Lit,

Jennifer Weiner gets her moment in big New Yorker profileJennifer Weiner (Credit: AP/Chris Pizzello)

The literary world is starting 2014 with a remembrance of the big debates of last year: Jennifer Weiner has gotten a big New Yorker profile. The novelist and commentator on the literary scene has been the instigator, and subject, of more conversations in the past year than perhaps all previous years combined; her crusade to see more women in the pages of the New York Times Book Review and to raise public respect for the genre commonly known as “chick lit” has led her into various literary fights, as chronicled in these pages; her claims, though, that literature’s “seriousness” is largely a function of gendered marketing is one that other books this year, like Adelle Waldman’s relationship-focused “Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.,” made clear. Whether due to her influence or not, the Times Book Review has lately devoted more attention to commercial fiction.

That Weiner was profiled, sympathetically and with nuance, for America’s most “serious” weekly by the author of a forthcoming book on “Middlemarch” — a book written by a woman about human relationships, and one of the most “serious” novels of all time — is something of a victory. Weiner has still, as the piece noted, never been reviewed in the pages of the Times, though they have covered her wardrobe.

Here are the major takeaways from Rebecca Mead’s profile:

Weiner was a little flattered by longtime bête noire Jonathan Franzen’s mocking her:

Franzen recently published an essay in the Guardian in which he decried the effect of social media on the practice of serious literature; he made a reference to “Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion.” Weiner says that her reaction was “eighty per cent indignation and twenty per cent ‘Holy shit, Jonathan Franzen knows who I am.’ It was kind of thrilling, in a pathetic way.”

Mead is surprised by the darkness of Weiner’s “Good in Bed,” a “chick-lit” classic:

Still, the novel is darker than its premise suggests. Early in the book, the father of Cannie’s ex-boyfriend dies; she pays a shivah call that takes an unexpected turn, and she becomes pregnant. She contemplates getting an abortion [...]

Sometimes the reversals of fortune and the discoveries of love in Weiner’s books can feel forced, given the anger and hurt that precede them. Her characters can appear to be mouthing lines they have read in self-help books rather than expressing authentic emotions. It often seems that inside these calculatedly lightweight books there is a more anguished, and possibly truer, work trying to get out.

Don’t worry, readers — Weiner, herself, is a “likable character”!

On the likability scale, Weiner is closer to Bridget Jones than to Messud’s Nora Eldridge. Warm, funny and frank, she can also be charmingly self-deprecating. “My assistant just sent me a packing list,” she emailed me before an out-of-town event. “The list includes underwear. I don’t know who I am any more.”

She isn’t interested in playing her cultural role by herself — but no one else has stepped up:

Weiner says that she would relinquish her role as an ombudsman of publishing-world sexism if a writer with a more literary reputation took on the job. “But I imagine they have more to lose than I do,” she says. “If some literary woman were to be known as a gadfly, or a crank, even—somebody who won’t shut up, somebody who is persistent and abrasive—that could hurt her, careerwise.”

Even in the New Yorker, Weiner’s wardrobe comes in for examination:

One recent purchase is a luxurious camel-hair coat that she ordered from Max Mara after seeing a paparazzi shot of Kim Kardashian wearing one. On Twitter, Weiner referred to it as the Koat.

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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