Comparisons were almost inevitable. After all, Bridget Jones is the hipster-wannabee, fun and quirky female character we've all loved and identified with for the past four years or so. So when Jennifer Weiner introduced the character of Candace "Cannie" Shapiro to the world in her freshman novel GOOD IN BED, readers and reviewers alike were bound to hop on the Bridget-comparison bandwagon. (Weiner herself nods prophetically at the comparisons early in the book when Cannie self-referentially calls herself "a cliché, Ally McBeal and Bridget Jones put together, which is probably about what I weighed.") Not a bad comparison to garner, of course, for a first-time author, but what an injustice.
Yes, yes, there are similarities. Cannie is funny, like Bridget Jones. She's sassy, like Bridget Jones. She's lonely, like Bridget Jones. She's dieting, like Bridget Jones. But she's not Bridget Jones. There's a lot more meat to the Candace Shapiro story. Cannie exhibits wounds and vulnerabilities we can only guess the British Bridget had. Jennifer Weiner fleshes out Cannie and gives us a rounder character than Bridget ever was. (Pun intended?)
Cannie is significantly overweight. She is a realistic portrayal of a large woman in a size 4 world. Despite her girth, Cannie has her life relatively together --- she is a successful writer, has close friends and a supportive (if offbeat) family. She has recently broken it off with her boyfriend of three years but she is comfortable with the break; it was her decision. But then he, Bruce, does the unthinkable, the unimaginable --- he publishes an article called "Loving a Larger Woman" in a national magazine. And everyone who knows Cannie (and even some she has yet to meet) know the piece is about her and her Lewinski-esque physique.
It is time for major life changes, she decides. She must get Bruce back and lose weight. She joins an Eating Disorder Center, where she meets a kindly doctor (and possible love interest) who becomes a fast friend and fan of her sense of humor. Did I mention that Cannie is funny? She is extremely funny. And so is Jennifer Weiner. Witness the name she gives Cannie's dog: Nifkin. (Look it up.) And the name she gives Cannie's newfound friend, the superstar Julia Roberts-like actress who wears a size zero: Maxi. GOOD IN BED is brimming with humor; from the tiniest of details to the expanded vignettes of Cannie's life, Jennifer Weiner invests no small amount of wit, sarcasm, candor, and comedy.
The real meat that I alluded to earlier lies in the dark moments of Cannie's life. Her father abandoned the family when she was a child, and this weighs heavily on her and her siblings. His disappearance affects all of her future relationships, and it isn't until she unexpectedly runs into him in a plastic surgeon's office, of all places, that she comes to terms with the lasting pull he has on her life. Later in the book, when she almost loses a child, she sinks to a place that seems so out of character for the upbeat Cannie and yet so right for the feelings she is dealing with. In despair, she loses the weight that has troubled her all her life but she cannot enjoy her achievement, because larger issues take precedence.
My only complaint with the book is that the ending is almost too perfect. I won't give it away, but Cannie triumphs, on many levels, and not the ones you might expect. So let the Bridget-comparison-mongers have their say. If being labeled the American equivalent of BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY gets people to read GOOD IN BED, so be it. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what a richer, funnier, truer character Cannie is. Enjoy.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 22, 2011
Good in Bed