There’s nothing like a good Jennifer Weiner story. Full of flawed characters who are pretty good at laughing at themselves, Weiner’s books somehow connect to readers on many different levels. Her newest is no different.
The Next Best Thing introduces us to Ruth Saunders, a comedy writing dynamo who is in the throes of having her original TV show produced. After becoming hooked on television as a child when recuperating from a devastating car accident, Ruth sets her goals on becoming a writer. She moves to Hollywood after university graduation, taking her 70-year old Grandma with her. As many do, she uses humour to cope with the difficulties that life hands her, and so she becomes what appears to be an unusual commodity in Hollywood: a female sitcom writer. Learning in the trenches, she starts working on her own scripts, and lands the opportunity to have her show made. In the process, she falls in love and learns a lot about Hollywood, the price of fame, and her own value-both in love and work. I won’t say much more, but Ruth ends up bringing new meaning to taking on The Man. Or the Bull by The Horns.
As an aside, The Next Best Thing is loosely based on Weiner’s on experience having a script produced. From my excessive googling, I learned that she also had a show that was canceled due to changes required by the network and the star.
What I liked: Ruth has a physical disfigurement (she’s badly scarred from a car accident, and her love interest is in a wheelchair. Often, protagonists in novels are physically perfect, if emotionally scarred. It’s nice that Weiner has addressed the idea of beauty and perfection in the entertainment business, and has introduced ‘real’ people who may not be perfect on the outside. She also managed to provide an education about the making of a TV show without over-explaining. What could have turned out to be overwritten ended up being really interesting. Grandma was a great character. She brought a voice of reason. I love that Weiner often has dynamic seniors in her books.
What I didn’t like: The sex scenes felt a little awkward; I found them to be more of an afterthought and not necessarily in keeping with the rest of the book.
The verdict: The Next Best Thing isn’t going to make you smarter, but it’s a great beach read.
Words to describe The Next Best Thing: light, fresh, unique
Recommend Factor: 7/10
Unputdownable Factor: 7/10