I read GOOD IN BED, which I think is an earlier novel by this author, and I enjoyed it, so I expected this to be even better. Alas, it took a small step back.
Like GOOD IN BED Weiner has a plump protagonist, which I approve of. This, perhaps, is why her work is denigrated as “women’s fiction.” Rose is a lawyer who has the misfortune of falling in love with one of her firm’s partners. Her messed-up sister Maggie comes to visit and basically throws a hand-grenade into Rose’s life. Maggie moves out, and the novel follows her, alternating between what Maggie does with her life and what happens to the sister she left behind.
The novel is basically a story of change, growth, and reconciliation. Of the two, Maggie’s story is more elaborate. She grows the most because she has the farthest to come. However, I found some of her choices hard to comprehend; they seemed out of character for her. The person she is at the end of the book seems completely different from the one at the first of the book. Great arc, but I think she needed to have more pages to make such a drastic change.
Rose changes her life too. She takes a leave of absence from work, and then immediately starts a job as a dog walker, of all things. I’m sure that was meant to be a metaphor, but it seemed like a really dumb thing to do, like leaving a medical practice to serve coffee at a kiosk. Especially baffling was that she didn’t seem to have any problem with her job prior to the event that made her want to leave. Why not just switch firms?
I think the weakness of this book is that it spends nearly equal time with Rose and Maggie, when Maggie is the only one who really needs to change. All of Rose’s “changes” seemed like a step in the wrong direction. She moves from a man she adores to one she’s ambivalent about. She moves from a career that challenges her intellectually to one that doesn’t pay a living wage.
I’m not going to get into specifics, but I felt the conclusion, where Maggie figures out how to reconcile with her sister, a little forced. The estranged grandmother also seemed clunky. There was another scene, as well, that introduced tension too late in the story for no good effect. The shoes themselves seemed an unnecessarily cliched schtick. Rose doesn’t care about clothing, and says she can’t match shoes to clothes, so why does she have so many expensive pairs of them? Shoe-love is not a universal feminine trait, and it seemed so out of character for Rose that I felt Weiner put it in just to reinforce a silly stereotype about women.
I’m not going to say this book isn’t worth reading. I did like the characters, and some of their adventures amused me (Maggie at Princeton). However, this isn’t Weiner’s best work.