Jennifer Weiner wants women to be taken seriously: ‘Women are just as complex + nuanced + interesting as men’
In an exclusive interview with Motherly, Weiner discusses her latest novel, writing female characters and the Me Too movement.
Jennifer Weiner knows that women deserve to be taken seriously. It's the heartbeat of all eighteen of her books: women have complicated and exciting lives worth exploring.
Her latest novel, That Summer, explores the lives of its characters with honesty and compassion. An act of violence sparks a chain of events that spans decades and changes the lives of several women. In an exclusive interview with Motherly, Weiner explains why she focuses her writing on centering women.
"I always think about this quote from the writer Grace Paley who back in the 1970's was asked if she considered herself a political writer. And she said, 'I write about women, so yes.' I think about that all the time," Weiner says.
"I think that women are still given short shrift in many ways and are not allowed to live fully on the page sometimes. You can read thrillers where women just exist to be imperiled and then rescued. […] You can read literary fiction where the male characters have these incredibly rich, incredibly nuanced lives that are written with such thoughtfulness and care. And then the women are just like, 'she had beautifully shaped breasts the size of cantaloupes.' I swear to God, I have read literary fiction like that! Or it's like, the men are these interesting, contradictory, complicated characters and then the women are just hot. That's it. That's the beginning and the end. They're just hot. And they're just there to be hot for the male protagonists."
She adds, "It drives me crazy because I truly believe women are just as complex and nuanced and interesting as men are and I want to write them that way."
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Jennifer Weiner Interview
Last Summer is a part-mystery, part-love story, part-coming of age novel that begins with the sexual assault of a teenage girl and explores how it shapes not only her life but many of the people she loves. It also touches on the importance of female friendships, the often unspoken and unfair benefits of generational wealth, and how society should discuss injustices like rape and assault, even when the crimes were committed decades ago.
"I wanted to talk about privilege, I wanted to talk about gender," Weiner explains. "I wanted to talk about what justice looks like and what forgiveness looks like and what ultimately it's going to take for these men to rejoin polite society again. That's something I think about a lot."
"We have to have a reckoning with this," she continues. "Just as we had a reckoning with Me Too, I think we're going to have a reckoning of what next. What do we do with these guys? They're going to come back and we better figure out what we want that to look like."
The novel's two main characters are both named Diana, though one goes by Daisy. When their worlds collide, the women become friends and learn they have more in common than it appears. Weiner also explores Daisy's relationship with her daughter Beatrice, which is rife with tension, angst and love.
Weiner says that the relationship between mothers and daughters fascinates her, in part because it's so complicated.
"Usually, there's love, there's respect, admiration but there's also 'what the hell are you doing?' or 'why didn't you do this differently with me?' That relationship can encapsulate the way changes are going on in the world," she says.
When she was a new mom, Weiner says, she lectured her own mother, Fran, about what was considered 'right' and 'wrong' in the parenting world. Weiner laughs as she recounts telling her mom about the importance of organic foods and how she wouldn't be using a playpen for her daughter.
"And my mom's like, 'well, where do you put them when you go to like, smoke your Virginia Slims and have a martini?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, we don't do that anymore either, Fran'," she says with a laugh.
"But times change. Parenting is a really, really interesting lens through which to look at the world changes that way."
She explains how her own daughters, now teenagers, helped shape the character of Beatrice.
"I loved writing the mothers and daughters in this book. I especially loved writing Beatrice because I feel like I got to sort of take all the best parts of my own daughters and borrow them and give them to Beatrice and that was a lot of fun."
The New York Times has dubbed Weiner "the undisputed boss of the beach read." Much of this novel is set on Cape Cod, that's true–but it's more than a light read. It's full of heart and strength, conflict and emotion. Weiner hopes readers appreciate That Summer for everything it offers.
"I write to entertain people. I want the book to be a good time. I want it to be diverting, I want it to be captivating to keep the pages turning. I want you to be invested in these people," she says.
"But there's also some meat on the bones. When people close the book, I want them to think, 'that was a fun ride. I liked meeting these people. I liked spending time with them. I liked the setting. I want to go visit Cape Cod.' But also, to think about where are we in the world right now? What has changed and what hasn't? Why do we still have so far to go and what is my personal role in moving things forward? That is what I want."
Daisy Shoemaker can't sleep. With a thriving cooking business, full schedule of volunteer work, and a beautiful home in the Philadelphia suburbs, she should be content. But her teenage daughter can be a handful, her husband can be distant, her work can feel trivial, and she has lots of acquaintances, but no real friends. Still, Daisy knows she's got it good. So why is she up all night?
While Daisy tries to identify the root of her dissatisfaction, she's also receiving misdirected emails meant for a woman named Diana Starling, whose email address is just one punctuation mark away from her own. While Daisy's driving carpools, Diana is chairing meetings. While Daisy's making dinner, Diana's making plans to reorganize corporations. Diana's glamorous, sophisticated, single-lady life is miles away from Daisy's simpler existence. When an apology leads to an invitation, the two women meet and become friends. But, as they get closer, we learn that their connection was not completely accidental. Who IS this other woman, and what does she want with Daisy?
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