Novelist takes on women and addiction and snobs

Enough with this “chick lit” stuff.

Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling novelist whose protagonists are female, overweight and Jewish, dismisses the label as “a useful term for marketers” and nothing more.

Jennifer Weiner

“It’s not the best thing in the world as an author,” she says, to be “pigeonholed.”

And to those who call her new book, “All Fall Down,” a departure from the witty, breezy fare she’s known for, well, that’s just another misnomer, Weiner says.

“I think that my readers know that I focus on women and that there’s a story told with some humor,” she says during a recent phone interview from her Philadelphia home.

“But I don’t think this [book] is a big departure.”

“All Fall Down” follows mommy blogger Allison Weiss, who is addicted to painkillers, whose marriage is falling apart and who is finally forced to confront reality.

And no, the story is not particularly funny. Nor does it end happily ever after.

“As I look back on all my books, they’ve all dealt with some serious issues,” says the Princeton graduate. “Maybe it’s more critics than readers,” she suggests, who are warning readers to brace themselves for the unexpected.

Weiner, who recently spoke at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, is not one to withhold her opinions. The 44-year-old speaks her mind about women and negative body image, gender bias in publishing, and even the venerable New York Times, which reviewed not one of her prior 10 novels despite their continued presence on its bestseller lists,  beginning with her 2001 debut novel, “Good in Bed.”

For years, Weiner complained (along with fellow best-selling author Jodi Picoult and others), that the Times reviewed far more books written by men, and profiled far more male authors, than women.

Only recently has she cut the Times some slack.

“Honestly, I feel like after years and years of asking the question and raising some issues, there’s some movement there,” she says. Weiner credits Pamela Paul, who became New York Times Book Review editor in 2013, for being committed to “making the tent bigger.” Not only is Paul “much more inclusive” of different types of writers, Weiner says, but she makes more readers feel “you are welcome here,” too.

In fact, the Times’ reviewed “All Fall Down” on June 20. The 200-word piece concludes: “If you’ve got thoughts about how much literary respect Weiner and her brand of ‘women’s fiction’ deserve, save it for the next Twitter storm. There’s no doubt she knows how to deliver a certain kind of story, and well.”

As for issues that especially touch women — such as body weight and self-esteem — Weiner continues speaking out. “I have daughters and I, of course, worry a lot about self-esteem and how they’re going to relate to food,” says the mother of two, ages 6 and 11. “There are so few characters … in books, movies, that are overweight.”

She puts herself in that category. “What is wrong with the world? So you’ve got a little jiggle, you’ve got some stretch marks. You never see women [portrayed] like that.”

Weiner says she doesn’t tire of “having plus-sized characters” in her novels. To the contrary, “I think it’s valuable,” she asserts. “I think it’s important. We have to show beauty as not being so narrowly defined.”

She also likes having Jewish characters. “It’s felt like a very natural thing; it’s part of writing what you know,” says the author, who is active in her synagogue and whose children attended Jewish preschool.

“All of my heroines are outsiders in a way, they’re observers of the mainstream instead of swimming in it,” she says. Making them Jewish “is a way of putting somebody on the outside a little bit.”

She says many readers “love” the fact that her characters are Jewish, “and then there are readers for whom this is wonderfully exotic. I think it kind of works for everybody.”

Currently in the midst of a book tour for “All Fall Down,” Weiner already is contemplating her next novel. She was inspired by a newspaper article about older people — in their 60s and 70s — who found themselves single and “back on the dating scene,” but rather than using JDate or returning to the social scene, “they’re going to matchmakers instead,” Weiner says.

“I’m thinking about a young person who falls into the world of matchmakers,” she muses. “That’s sort of where I am, in the early stages of figuring out who my characters are.”

Clearly, Weiner enjoys her work. “I love writing,” she says. “That’s where I go to relax. “

Stay tuned for her next novel.

“All Fall Down” by Jennifer Weiner (400 pages, Atria Books, $26)


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Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.