June 28, 2001
You Go, Girlfriend
Heartache and humor inspire Jennifer Weiner's new novel.
Jennifer Weiner began writing "Good in Bed" during a bout of Dumper's Regret in 1998.
She'd been dating her nice-Jewish-writer boyfriend for a few years, but no engagement ring was forthcoming. So she requested a trial separation. "I went home and proceeded to think about the relationship, and he went home and proceeded to date someone else," she says.
That's when the Dumper's Regret kicked in. Weiner moped around, feeling like she'd never smile again, lunging for the phone every time it rang in case it was her ex. "I obsessed about him," she says. "I'd get mad whenever his horoscope said he was going to have a good day for romance."
One Friday night, six months after the breakup, Weiner called the ex. "His phone was by the bed, and it became clear that he had female company," she says. "I was devastated."
That weekend, she vowed to do something constructive with her pain -- and decided to write a novel about a broken-hearted woman. Weiner tried to envision what would make the fictional breakup the worst one ever.
She recalled the day she opened Cosmopolitan magazine and discovered the "Sizzling Sex Tips" column had been written by a guy she'd casually dated. Never mind that the guy hadn't been good in bed; Weiner was terrified he'd written about her.
She wasn't in the article. But the heroine of "Good in Bed" isn't so lucky. At the beginning of this frothy, semi-autobiographical novel, the fictional Cannie Shapiro discovers she's the subject of her ex-boyfriend's new sex column. A series of comic misadventures ensues. Like Weiner, Cannie is a tall, zaftig Philadelphia entertainment journalist with a deadbeat dad, a lesbian mom and a quirky rat terrier. The wickedly funny, light summer romance turns serious but retains Weiner's witty, satirical voice.
For the outspoken 31-year-old author, who's marrying a nice Jewish attorney in October, the novel is sweet revenge. She got to make Cannie's ex-boyfriend a loser-slacker-Deadhead just like her own ex. she named him Bruce Guberman. "The day I named him that was a very happy day, because it makes him sound like such a drip," she says with a laugh.
During a Journal interview, Shapiro is warm, sardonic, sarcastic, alternately self-confident and self-deprecating. She fields calls from her agent and her therapist, then apologizes for leaving the interview. She talks about her Jewish wedding, which is going to be fancier than she originally planned, thanks to the "Good in Bed" dough.
Like Cannie, Weiner's tortured childhood propelled her into becoming a (what else ?) writer. "I was funny looking," she says. "I had braces. I felt like an outsider in so many ways."
In Weiner's WASPy hometown of Simsbury, Conn., her house was the only one on the street without Christmas decorations. In second grade, a classmate told her she'd killed Jesus. "I insisted I'd never killed anyone," she recalls. "He said, 'It must've been your parents.'"
The Jewish kids weren't any nicer. "On my teen summer trip to Israel, no one wanted to room with me or sit next to me on the bus," Weiner recalls. "I had to hike up Mount Masada alone."
When she returned home, she discovered that her hypercritical psychiatrist father had abandoned the family. "He never cared to see us again," Weiner says. "That kind of thing really messes you up. It makes you feel worthless, like you did something to make him leave."
The angst was great for Weiner's writing habit, however. At Princeton, she impressed all her creative writing professors, including legendary authors Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates and John McPhee.
After graduation, she snagged a less-than-thrilling job at a newspaper in small-town Pennsylvania, where she slaved away reporting on the sewage commission or school lunch menus. "I'd type, 'Monday: Hot Dog in Bun, Tater Tots, Cookie,'" she recalls. "I'd think, 'For this, I went to Princeton?'"
But Weiner was ambitious. At the crummy Pennsylvania paper, she started writing a Generation X-themed column that was syndicated on the Knight-Ridder wire service. The column eventually caught the eye of big city editors. At the age of 24, Weiner was hired as an entertainment columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In "Good in Bed," Weiner recounts a fictionalized version of the hilarious true story of how Minnie Driver's publicist refused to let her ask the actress about her very public dumping by Matt Damon (in the book, the actress is renamed "Maxi Ryder").
A more difficult task was penning the chapter in which Cannie confronts her wayward father. Weiner had to rent a cottage on Cape Cod to finish the scene: "It brought up such painful feelings that I didn't want to have them in my house," she says.
Her efforts paid off. Pocket Books bought "Good in Bed" for $550,000 in May 2000; the novel made the summer reading lists of People and Entertainment Weekly; critics are comparing it to "Bridget Jones's Diary" and the rights have been sold in 13 countries, including Israel. Weiner has been receiving amusing e-mail from her German translator: "She asked me, 'What are tater tots? What is sympathy f---?'" the author says with a laugh.
A "Good in Bed" screenplay is now in the works, though Weiner won't be writing it. "Trying to do the screenplay of your novel is like trying to circumcise your own son," she explains. "It's best not to even go there."
Weiner says her childhood insecurities continue to plague her. "It's the old legacy of having my father leave," she says. "I could get 99 great reviews and one not-so-great review, and that's the one I stay up at night thinking about."
"But I'm getting better," she reports. "Most of the time, I think I'm pretty cool."
I found Moxie on the rack next to its sister publications, Cosmo and Glamour and Mademoiselle. It was hard to miss, what with the supermodel in sequins beneath headlines blaring "Come Again: Multiple Orgasm Made Easy!" and "Ass-Tastic! Four Butt Blasters to Get Your Rear in Gear!" ... I sat, eased a few M & M's into my mouth, and flipped to page 132, which turned out to be "Good in Bed," Moxie's regular male-written feature designed to help the average reader understand what her boyfriend was up to ... or wasn't up to, as the case might be. At first, my eyes wouldn't make sense of the letters. Finally, they unscrambled. "Loving a Larger Woman," said the headline, "By Bruce Guberman."
Bruce Guberman had been my boyfriend for just over three years, until we'd decided to take a break three months ago. And the Larger woman, I could only assume, was me.
You know how in a scary book a character will say, "I felt my heart stop?" Well, I did. Really. Then I felt it start to pound again, in my wrists, my throat, my fingertips. The hair at the back of my neck stood up. My hands felt icy. I could hear the blood roaring in my ears as I read the first line of the article: "I'll never forget the day I found out my girlfriend weighed more than I did." ... "I'll kill him!" I choked.
Excerpt from "Good in Bed" by Jennifer Weiner, reprint by permission of Pocket Books, a divison of Simon & Schuster.