Author Talk: July 17, 2009
July 17, 2009
In this interview, Jennifer Weiner --- bestselling author of seven titles, including GOODNIGHT NOBODY, IN HER SHOES and CERTAIN GIRLS --- discusses her latest novel, BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, and elaborates on some of its themes, including friendship and its connection with faith and religion. She also explains why she is always drawn to exploring relationships between women in her books, and shares what she hopes readers will take away from her work.
Question: Did writing GOODNIGHT NOBODY prepare you for the facets of mystery in BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: the investigation, the crime, the Thelma and Louise–like road trip?
Jennifer Weiner: Writing GOODNIGHT NOBODY definitely helped. So did talking to the detectives who were nice enough to walk me through investigatory procedure (and to okay the liberties I planned on taking). I think the best part of researching this book was going to see the Lower Merion Township jail, which not only has a video setup for long-distance arraignments (the suspect stands in front of one camera and the judge, at home, in front of another), but also features the federally mandated handicapped-accessible holding cell, which was absolutely too good not to use in the book.
Q: Some of the same negative forces in Addie’s life --- Val and Vijay specifically --- were also positive forces. Is that what you wanted your readers to take away from her experiences?
JW: I think you can learn from any experience and any person, even the ones that hurt you so badly that you don’t think you’ll be able to survive them at the time. So yes, insofar as I had a message (and really, I cringe at the idea of books that try too hard to “teach” you something, and are not textbooks), the message was that you can survive anything life throws at you --- a parent’s death, a friend’s betrayal, a boyfriend who breaks your heart --- and come out stronger on the other side.
Q: Before she dies, Addie’s mother tells her, “There’s all kinds of love in the world, and not all of it looks like the stuff in greeting cards.” It seems like this is a metaphor for the entire novel. What are you trying to get across about the nature of love, forgiveness, and faith?
JW: When Addie’s mother is talking to her about love, Addie (and the reader) might assume that she’s talking about romance. I like to think that what she’s really talking about is Valerie, who betrayed Addie, and was herself betrayed by Addie. I think if she’d had more time, Nancy might have told her daughter that there aren’t too many people you meet who you’ll know and love for as long as you’re alive. You won’t have your parents around for your whole life, or your children…but a good friend can be forever.
Q: There are some comedic references to religious faith, particularly with Val and Chip Mason, and Dan Swansea is literally bombarded by faith. Why did you include this religious component?
JW: When I wrote this book, I was thinking about religion, and the way God (at least the God in the Old Testament) tests people. Addie is kind of my version of Job --- the person who has everything taken away, who is tested, seemingly at random. I wanted to answer the question: what happens to a woman who’s an outcast to start with, and who loses everything she loves --- her brother, her best friend, her parents, her boyfriend? How does she find the strength to go on? I guess the answer --- she finds her strength in friendship --- suggests that maybe friendship is its own kind of faith, its own kind of religion.
Q: As the story progresses, Dan becomes more of a catalyst for reuniting Val and Addie than an actual problem. Is that the direction you’d intended for his character to take, or did he surprise you?
JW: Oh, Dan! He gave me so much trouble! There was a version of the book where he died in that parking lot. There was another version where he was kidnapped and tortured by a bunch of angry feminists masquerading as a book club (because nobody suspects the book club!). It took me a long time and about a half-dozen drafts before I figured out that he wasn’t a main character as much of a catalyst --- a means to an end instead of an end in himself. Which is comeuppance enough for a former BMOC, right?
Q: You’ve explored close female relationships in all of your books. What made you want to delve into the land of female friendships?
JW: I was interested in the idea of friendship as a choice. I’ve written a lot about the relationships you don’t choose: mothers and daughters, mothers and daughters-in-law, sisters, new mothers and babies…with this book, I wanted to write about a relationship that you can opt into and out of.
Plus, like many women, I’ve had the experience of the friend who got away --- the person you thought would always be part of your life, and then isn’t, because you had a falling-out over whatever (with “whatever,” at least in my experience, usually being a boy). Or you got married and she didn’t, or she had kids and you didn’t, or whatever. I think that’s an experience that many women have, and I was really interested in seeing how it would play out in a novel.
Q: In BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, similar to some of your previous titles, the darker plot twists --- cancer, obesity, rape, neglect --- are peppered with humor. Do you consciously balance those elements as you write?
JW: Actually, not really --- it’s not as if I’m thinking, “ooh, this part was really dark, better throw in a joke,” or “time for a serious scene to balance out the funny”! I think it’s just the way I’m wired, that my stories unfold with both humor and pathos…and I think I’m wired that way because of my own life, where, with every awful thing that happened, my mother would always tell me, “You’ll laugh about this someday!” or “It’s all material!”
Q: At one point, Addie is stripped of all her personal relationships. Do you think that’s what she needed to engage in the world around her?
JW: Again, I saw Addie as my Job --- the woman who was going to lose everything in order to rebuild a better life (actually, maybe instead of Job, she’s the Six Million Dollar Woman --- “Gentlemen, we can rebuild her!”).
Q: We get our first glimpse of Addie’s newly designed home through the eyes of Jordan. He describes it specifically on page 223 as a “place made for pleasure.” What kind of research did you do regarding home design? Do Addie’s design choices reflect your own?
JW: I did the usual --- looked through a lot of home magazines, thought a lot about the kind of choices Addie would make --- and because she’s an artist, she’d probably make better choices than I do. But I wanted there to be a clear contrast between her home and Jordan’s --- specifically, I wanted him to live in a place that was totally alienating, where he couldn’t open the cabinets or unlock the oven, and for Addie’s place to feel very inviting and open.
Q: The end of the novel leaves a lot of room for a sequel. Are you thinking of continuing Addie and Valerie’s story?
JW: I’ll have to see if they keep talking to me!
© Copyright 2009, Jennifer Weiner. All rights reserved.
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