I struggled while writing this blog, because for the first time since I started this series, I really didn’t like the book. I wanted to love it, really. The author, Jennifer Weiner, is a strong voice for women’s literature in the publishing industry. Her books fall directly into one of my favorite genres, and she has a wicked sense of humor used to great effect in her writing. But alas, dear reader, Best Friends Forever reminded me that sometimes I need to learn what not to do.
The novel follows Addie Downs, a 30-something woman with no friends, no real family and a sad history as she reconnects with her former best friend, Valerie Adler, an attractive local weather woman. They rediscover their friendship after Valerie hits a former classmate with her car at a high school reunion. I actually liked the plot, the exploration of past, the character resolutions at the end. I’m not bothered when events seem far fetched – I’m just along for the ride. And once BFF gets going, I kinda enjoyed it.
So, dear reader, here’s what didn’t work for me.
Many writing experts suggest writers shouldn’t use a lot of backstory early in their books. Readers prefer diving into events, then having details filled in later. By taking this approach, readers become invested in the characters and the plot. BFF spends most of the first 100 pages flashing back and forward between present day and the past. While I understand Weiner wanted to illustrate the main characters’ childhood friendship so you could appreciate how they became the women they grew into, it kept me from investing in their current situation. In those early pages, very little happened to move the plot forward. It was like taking one step forward and ten steps back. It was very frustrating.
Weiner also chose to write the book from multiple perspectives, which normally wouldn’t be a problem. I enjoy stories where I get to experience events from different characters’ eyes. However, she switches between telling the story in first person as Addie, and third person with several other characters. One character even has his segments in italics. Why are his so special? I’m sure Weiner had very good reasons for making this decision, but it seemed like a bit of a cheat to me. Part of the fun and challenge of first person is the limited knowledge. By only getting to see the story through one character’s eyes, the reader is challenged to fill in the blanks based on what the character observes. While reading, I found the head and perspective jumping very jarring. I would have preferred the entire book be written in third person.
Lastly – and this is a personal pet peeve – Weiner tended to overuse the word “that” when she didn’t need it – several times a page, sometimes more than once in a sentence. Here’s an example: “It took me a second to realize that he intended to kiss me, and another second to realize that I was going to let him.” You could remove both of the “thats” and the sentence would still have the same meaning, just two less words. Admittedly, there isn’t anything grammatically wrong with leaving them in, but as the venerable Strunk & White’s Elements of Style suggests, “The ear, for example, must decide when to omit that from a sentence, when to retain it. ‘She knew she could do it’ is preferable to ‘She knew that she could do it’ — simpler and just as clear.” It’s a style thing, but why use extra words when you don’t need them, especially twice in one sentence.
So, dear readers, what did I learn from this experience. Well, even bestselling authors have writing quirks they need to improve on. With any luck, I’ll remember this as I’m writing books two, three and 20, that just because I’ve been published before, it doesn’t mean I get to stop trying to improve, to learn to tell a story better. After reading BFF, I wonder why her editor or agent or someone didn’t suggest she change things. Or perhaps it was an experiment not fully realized. I’ll have to try another Jennifer Weiner book to see if this was just a fluke.
In other news, I have an agent!!! I am now represented by the incredible and smart Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. You can read all about it here.
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