"The Guy Not Taken"—A Road Weiner Has Been Down Before
Meet Josie. She’s an overweight Jewish bookworm with daddy issues. Meet Ruth, a self-conscious struggling writer abandoned by her hunky co-worker. Or Jess, a woman so eager to win the heart of her down-on-his-luck real estate agent that she lets him sell her perfect apartment. Then there’s Marlie, who spends her lonely nights wondering if she chose the wrong husband. And we can’t forget Marion, who has to break the news of her divorce to her favorite son while touring college campuses.
All these women can be found in Jennifer Weiner’s newest book, The Guy Not Taken, a collection of short stories written at some point in the last 18 years and published in 2006. Weiner’s women are funny, spunky and self-deprecating, but similar to all her other protagonists found in Good in Bed, In Her Shoes and Little Earthquakes, these women are, essentially, the same.
The similarities between Josie, Ruth and the others are endless. These women are most comfortable in the pool. They are writers or journalists. They have younger/thinner/prettier sisters or friends. They yearn for the validation of their absent fathers. They give premature blow jobs and then get cheated on. They proudly declare, like Ruth, in “Swim,” “I don’t need a man to be happy,” but their stories revolve around finding, satisfying, keeping and questioning men.
Anyone who has read Weiner’s other works can instantly pick up on these common motifs, characters and situations. In “Just Desserts,” Josie references her younger sister, Nicki, by saying, “all of the cute genes floating around in our collective pool had gone to Nicki, whereas I’d cleaned up in the big, bosomy, awkward, and acne-prone department.” In Weiner’s second novel, In Her Shoes, made into a movie staring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, the sister dynamic is similar. “There was a time, when they were little girls, that people thought they were twins….Well, not anymore. Rose was maybe an inch or two taller, and at least fifty pounds heavier, maybe more.”
The reason her characters and themes are so similar is because Weiner bases her protagonists on her own pain, loss and insecurities. Her personal notes at the end of The Guy Not Taken say just that. “My parents split up when I was sixteen…I wrote about my parents’ divorce, and wrote about it, and wrote about it, and wrote about it. My joke about college is that everything I wrote had a single theme: My parents got divorced, and it hurt.” This still hasn’t changed in her writing. In both her short stories and her novels, the pain of separation and broken hearts is always raw and real (who can’t relate to some sort of family drama or break up?) but it’s the same every time. If you’ve read Good in Bed, arguably her best novel, you’ve read the first three stories of The Guy Not Taken.
Which is fine for people who like Weiner’s style and want more of it. However, in 2005 the chick lit world was attacked by Elizabeth Merrick’s collection of short stories, This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers. Weiner, although annoyed in interviews about the book’s publication and its insults toward chick lit writers, published The Guy Not Taken a year later, continuing her chick lit writing, but still cringing about the label. In her notes, she says, “These days, the books about single girls in the city that are dismissively called chick lit get a lot of flak for the Cinderella fantasy they allegedly embrace—the way their heroines muddle through the pain and poundage of single-girl existence, wisecracking all the way, until Prince Charming appears and takes them away from all of that. I’ve written two novels that end with wedding bells. But does a marriage, and a man willing to proffer a ring and promise forever, necessarily equal happily-ever-after?”
Weiner doesn’t necessarily promise happily-ever-after for her heroines in The Guy Not Taken. Girlfriends get cheated on, dads leave, and toddlers wreak havoc, but because the characters in her previous works ended up okay, there’s hope for the women in her short stories, too. After all, as a New York Times Best Selling Author, wife and mother, Weiner herself seems to be doing pretty well these days. And based on the similarities between her writing and her personal life, we can expect nothing less for her protagonists.