Laurie Gold's Reviews > The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
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's review
Aug 16, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: chick-lit-post-chick-lit
Read in August, 2012

Jennifer Wiener's The Next Best Thing manages to feel authentic and inauthentic at the same time. The poignancy of lead character Ruth Saunders, left scarred in the car accident that killed her parents when she was three, is palpable. And that poignancy does come across in various vignettes throughout the book. But Ruth's story overall, lacks that same poignancy. Perhaps it is the Hollywood storyline, but more likely it is that Grandma, who raised Ruth and continues to be both her inspiration and roommate, is one of those characters I simply do not find believable. It would not surprise me if there were a real-life Grandma to whom the author is paying homage in this book, but for me the character was simply too good to be true...and thereby inauthentic.

Grandma became Ruth's lifeline throughout the multiple surgeries she endured as a child. Because so much of her work world revolved around her grandma, easy natural for realists to develop a fondness for the floor older women featured in the Golden Girls. As an adult Ruth and Grandma moved to Hollywood so she might pursue her dream of becoming a television writer. After putting in her dues, she gets her chance. A sitcom she develops loosely based on her life with Grandma, gets the green light. Unfortunately, her beta boyfriend's breaking up with her at the start of this fantastic new chapter in her life is simply the harbinger of the disaster to come, as casting, writing, and that whole "vision thing" one by one conspire to destroy her dream.

I grew up in Los Angeles. I've been on sets and seen movies and sitcoms being filmed and have family who were/are "in the business." More importantly, I've read behind-the-scenes accounts of how film and television ideas are developed, then ruined by committee. Wiener makes those war stories personal, but it always seemed as though she was adding her personal wallpaper to the foundations left by others. Again, it wouldn't surprise me if watching Good in Bed transform into a movie, or her experience in bringing State of Georgia to the small screen provided the underpinnings of this novel, but if so, the idea was better than the reality.

I was drawn far more to Ruth's love life, which for some reason reminded me of the 1970s novel Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York. Interestingly enough, that book's author, Gayle Parent, was both a producer and writer of the Golden Girls. As an aside, if you've seen Sheila the movie, you've not read the book. Both it, and Parent's David Meyer is a Mother, are both worth reading. But back to Ruth's love life. It's sad and comic at the same time, and for that the author deserves props. I won't say more about this facet of the story because if you decide to read the book, you'll appreciate discovering this aspect for yourself.

Jennifer Weiner burst onto the scene in 2001 with her Chick Lit novel Good in Bed, though this is the first of her books that I've read. It's likely to be the last as well.

(I received this book for review from GalleyCat).

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