As a beach read, Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer is all that. An entertaining and oftentimes insightful distraction filled with interesting characters leading interesting and sometimes strange lives.
Weiner is a skilled storyteller, and even if the literary world relegates her to chick-lit, she’s good at getting inside a chick’s head and showing you how she feels. But alas, Big Summer feels like it was written by committee. Even the title and upscale cover feels designed to get readers to tuck the book inside a beach bag. It’s not about a big summer. It’s about a “big” girl and a long June weekend.
Are all of Weiner’s protagonists fat? I don’t know. I’ve read only two pieces of Weiner’s fiction, her first book Good in Bed and Big Summer, her most recent (her newest novel, That Summer, comes out in May).
Of Good in Bed, I wrote, “Her memoir [Hungry Heart] led me to read that first novel, Good in Bed. Though a fictional story, the main character, Cannie, is a plus-sized newspaper reporter with a small dog and a messy breakup, all characteristics shared by Weiner at that time in her life. It is fascinating how she modeled the character on herself, and then created a wholly fictional, fresh ending. I found the plot twists to be surprising yet plausible.”
Big Summer’s plot twists are still surprising (wow!) but not plausible. The book begins as one thing, the story of a plus-sized Instagram influencer looking for love, and jolts abruptly into another thing. I don’t want to ruin your experience with spoilers; I’ll only say the book introduces a plot twist which might shelve it in another section of the bookstore.
I can’t say I didn’t like the plot twist. I did! It kept me reading so it was compelling. But the ending is a little too, um, unbelievable.
That didn’t ruin the book for me, but overall, I felt like there was too much effort to please all the people all the time. The high stakes and the “fully realized characters of all races and ethnicities” (Weiner’s words, from the acknowledgments) do not feel organic. Good in Bed was written to please Weiner alone, and it shows. She had a unique point of view in her debut, and she showcased it. Big Summer felt more like she had a deadline, a page count and a compulsion to sell books. I get it! What author doesn’t want to sell books? If you’re getting published, sales mean people care about what you’re saying. But it just felt like she cared more about selling books than she cared about her story, at least at the end of it.