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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

the guy not taken

Weiner, Jennifer. The Guy Not Taken. I read In Her Shoes a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, and when Chrissie Brewer of Engleman & Company asked if I'd be interested in this collection of short stories, I thought I might, even though I don't usually seek short stories.

I did like them, even more than I expected. My usual manner of reading short stories and essays is to read them in between other things. They make good filler because each story can be completed in such a short amount of time, so I usually dole them out. In this case, however, the first three stories featured the same characters, the same family, and that provided a nice surprise. The sisters also bore a marked resemblance to the sisters in the novel In Her Shoes.

There are certain themes running through all of the stories: an absent father, a young woman with an interest in writing, often a grandmother, and characters who love swimming, using the swimming of laps as a means of creating a calm oasis in a crisis, a meditative exercise. Yet each story felt real. Not deep, but part of a common set of experiences.

I read pretty much straight through the stories, making a few mental notes about men who deserted their families and the damage that resulted; the romantic relationships, both good and bad; the difficulties that spouses, parents, siblings encounter. When I finished the last story, I realized that Weiner had made her own comments about these recurring themes and how they connected (or didn't connect) with her own experiences.

This quote from Weiner makes a humorous assessment of the situation:
"I wrote about my parents' divorce, and wrote about it, and wrote about it, and wrote about it. My joke about college is that everything I wrote had a single theme: My parents got divorced, and it hurt. Freshman year: My parents got divorced, and it hurt. Sophomore year: My parents got divorced, and it really hurt. Junior year: Did I mention that my parents got divorced? Senior year: No, I'm not over it yet! (I think we should all bow our heads in gratitude that I didn't go to graduate school.)"

Strangely, the story that least appealed to me was "The Guy Not Taken," which provides the title to the collection, and which has been optioned by DreamWorks and has a screenplay in the works.

My parents never divorced. I've been married to the same man for 35 years. These stories made me wonder how differently my life would have turned out without a dependable father; how differently the lives of my children might have been. It isn't that I've been unaware that divorce has had a huge impact on the lives of many children and adolescents, I taught school for God's Sake. I'd ever lived it from the inside-out before. Weiner stories gave a taste of that experience in a most pragmatic, unsentimental , and often hilarious way. Her parents' divorce may very well be the one thing that made her an author.

P.S. Not all the stories are about divorce. :) I think what I liked about them was seeing how the author used the stories (written over a 15 year period) to develop her writing skills and her own method of dealing with situations.

Thanks, Chrissie!

Short stories. 2006. 279 pages + other material.


  1. Jennifer Weiner is hilarious - moreso in her everyday writing than her stories, although I truly think she's an excellent writer. I'd have to approach the book from the same perspective you did, being the child of solid marriage (and, I guess my 25 years-as-of-next-week counts as a stable marriage, too). I'll look for this one, thanks!

  2. I, too, am the child of a solid marriage, but I've known so many who have been affected by their parents' divorce. I'll look out for the movie version of The Guy Not Taken--thanks for the review!

  3. I love Jennifer Weiner, but oddly enough, I haven't heard many thoughts on this book (maybe because it is short stories). Thanks for the thoughtful review. I'll certainly try to secure a copy soon.

  4. bookfool - Weiner is a very personable writer; she comes across as someone you actually might know. Not all of the stories were about absent fathers, but it was a definite motif.

    gentle reader - The stories were interesting, and I didn't like The Guy Not Taken as much as the others, but I'll be interested to see the movie version as well.

    Andi - I'll be catching up on more of her work soon. I enjoyed In Her Shoes, but that is the only other thing I've read by her.