Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Popular fiction is a genre that is distinct from literary fiction, though the boundaries are fluid. I like to think of these categories as either ends of a ruler, with most books falling somewhere between the two ends. A lot of the books I read fall right around the middle of the continuum between popular and literary fiction. For example I put authors like Kate Atkinson, Diane Johnson, and Elinor Lipman right smack in the middle. At the literary fiction end of things are some of my favorites like Mary Gordon and Margaret Atwood. And at the other, popular fiction end are people I read (and enjoy) such as Janet Evanovich. Note that these are my own categorizations; others may disagree.

What baffles me is when the book industry people decide in advance where along the continuum a book goes, and design the cover and the marketing plan accordingly. Such is the case with Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner. The childish title and the frothy cover announce that this is Popular Fiction, capital P, capital F. Readers in search of serious ideas need not bother. Why pigeonhole a book like this? Why not a more ambiguous cover and title? Does the book sell more copies because of what it is, or what it’s not?

In fact, Best Friends Forever was good, and it reminded me a lot of Elinor Lipman’s books, which are often about sibling relationships and close friendships among women. BFF was a little more slapstick, a little less taut than Lipman’s typical work, but the jokes were funny, the characters were multilayered, and the plot (while not groundbreaking) had some originality. The dialogue was especially good. It’s supposed to be a Thelma and Louise kind of story though it’s much tamer than that. I think BFF would appeal to a lot of different readers but unfortunately many of the more serious ones wouldn’t be caught dead with it. Weiner’s publishers have done her a disservice; the chick lit fans will read it anyway because Weiner is already established in that subgenre, and by choosing this fashion magazine type of cover they are denying Weiner the possibility of bringing in new readers who usually hang out a little closer to the literary end of the book world.

The only reason I tried this book was because it was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I trust. If you trust my opinion, you might want to give this a whirl also.

(Book 39, 2009)


Sarah Laurence said...

Like you, I’m often attracted to the novels that fall between literary and commercial (what you call popular) fiction. Interestingly enough, that line doesn’t exist in young adult fiction, although there is a broad range in that genre.

I enjoyed Weiner’s Little Earthquakes and am all the more interested in this latest novel from your review. As commercial women’s covers go, this one isn’t bad: not pink and no shoes, although the title is a turn off. Book designers don’t usually read the book, just a blurb, and the author rarely has a say in it.

Amused said...

This one is on my TBR pile so I was very excited for your review. I really liked some of Ms. Weiner's original books but have recently been let down but your review gives me hope that this one is really good again. I too am a fan of Elinor Lipman! Thanks for the great review!

zoya said...

What I've always thought was light fiction turned out more along the lines that you described in this post...a mid-way between literary and popular fiction. But your observations here gave me a new insight into what goes into designing a cover page. And as the popular fiction gains more reader base, I've noticed a lot of cover designs fluctuating that end.

I haven't read BFF but had come across similar fiction. Do check them out at my blog:

Jillian said...

I've only read one book by Weiner but I quite enjoyed it, so perhaps I'll pick this one up as well : )

I have a suggestion for you too! I think you would really love a book I wrote called 'Knickles and Dimes'. It's a fun read, with laugh-out-loud characters and a great story. I hope you'll check it out!

Thanks for the review!


Phil said...

Are you saying that you can't judge "Best Friends Forever" by its cover?

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