Reading one of Jennifer Weiner's contemporary novels of manners is a bit like biting into an apple. The experience is full of flavor, more crisp than juicy, and refreshingly tart.
Partly, that's because the novels typically are narrated by a heroine who, like Weiner herself, is an acute and witty observer of social norms into which she doesn't quite fit.
Weiner's 10th novel, "All Fall Down," features Allison Weiss, who has everything she once wanted — a husband and daughter she loves, an interesting job, a stately house in the suburbs — but finds herself sliding into an addiction to prescription pain medication.
Much of the novel's pleasure is provided by the pinpoint accuracy with which Allison nails pretensions, such as the upscale new mothers the novel describes, who wear "their babies wrapped in yards of organic cotton hand-dyed and woven by indigenous Peruvian craftswomen who were paid a living wage."
Weiner's books have become best-sellers partly because of such observations, which are made by Rubenesque protagonists who learn to overcome their insecurities. There are more than 11 million copies of her books in print in 36 countries, according to her publicist.
Weiner, 44, a Philadelphia resident and the mother of 11- and 6-year-old daughters, seems to enjoy making a big splash while rowing upstream. That's true whether she's railing against sexism in the publishing world, engaging in a literary feud with the novelist Jonathan Franzen or tweeting episodes of "The Bachelor" live to her nearly 89,000 followers.
"Tweeting 'The Bachelor' became a communal experience for me," Weiner said over the phone a few weeks before coming to the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "I love that people come to my books that way. They're like, 'Ohmigod, you write novels? I thought you were just the funny tweeting lady.'"
An edited transcription of the conversation appears below.
Was "All Fall Down" inspired by being the child of an alcoholic who also was a drug addict? Were you afraid that you were going to turn out like your father?
Absolutely. The children of addicts are eight times as likely as other people to have problems themselves. The good news is that alcohol never did anything other than make me sleepy or hungry, which is my natural state.
But yeah, any child of an addict looks at the statistics with alarm and is careful about her own choices.
In my case, it sort of freaked me out about my own kids. They're young now, but when it becomes time to have the talk, I'm going to have to say:
"You guys are biologically predisposed to this becoming a problem. I'm not going to tell you to never have a beer, because that's not realistic. But I am going to tell you there are more risks to drinking than there are for other kids."
You're a natural satirist, though there was one time when I sensed you holding back. What do you really think of 12-step groups?
Hee hee hee hee hee. Laura Miller in Salon did a close reading of some of my books and decided that my protagonists are horrible snobs and that they look down on people — to which I say, "Yeah, kind of." I don't know if I'd call it snobbery or opinions.
Allison has, and with good reason, a pretty low opinion of the one-size-fits-all nature of recovery and some of the sloganeering that goes on, like "You're only as sick as your secrets." Really? Really?
But nobody wants to slam 12-step groups. They've done a ton of good. They've saved people's lives. Allison keeps wanting to say that she isn't like these people. She keeps wanting to say, "This isn't me." At the end of the book, she has to say, "This is me."
Let's talk about your literary feud with Jonathan Franzen, which makes me feel kind of like the child of divorcing parents. Why can't I enjoy reading you both for different reasons?
You can. I think there's a place on the shelf for everyone's books. Jonathan Franzen, I think, would be the one to dispute that. He's the one who would say, "This is trash. It's not worth anyone's time."
I read Jonathan Franzen. I admire the craft, 100 percent. He's a wonderful, observant, sharp writer. The one beef I have with him is when he talked in an article for The Guardian about "Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion."