essays / memoir / nonfiction

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner

hungryheart

I’ve always sort of liked Jennifer Weiner’s books. They are fluffy but generally well-written, normally set in the Mid-Atlantic, frequently feature dogs, characters are normal people and they are not too romance novel-y.

I had read her blog back in 2002 (when even her publisher had to ask her what a blog was) and follow her on Twitter so I knew the broad strokes of her personal life but Hungry Heart really filled in the blanks.

She has what I would call a terrible picker when it comes to men. Hopefully, her new husband is better than the previous ones. First, she dates a 23-year-old when she is 16 and continues dating him all through college. Strangely, she doesn’t mention this in the college chapter but later when she is talking about all the dogs she had over the years. Her next boyfriend is an unattractive pothead who, after they break up she mourns over and stalks (“drive-bys” of his house 2 hours away!!) for 6 months. Her first husband seems nice but when he loses his job when she is pregnant and is still unemployed when she gives birth, she still assumes that she will have to do all of the childcare and providing financially for the family. She does seem like a bit of a control freak and she is definitely a people pleaser to her own detriment but really, why would she assume he’d be no help with the child what so ever?  He also seemed to rarely cook or clean either.  I’m surprised she had a second child with him. Her new husband is actually an old boyfriend who had seemed nice in earlier chapters if not ready to commit. I’m always suspicious of someone who proposes when a woman is pregnant (she later miscarries) but maybe it will work out. He seems fond of her little girls and they seem to have more in common that she had with her previous partners.

I liked her chapter on her various dogs, as a dog owner, I really related to how much of a part of your life they are.

I also enjoyed the look into the book selling process, publishing and the making of her book into a movie. She was so lucky she wrote her book when publishers were still giving big advances!

I could have done without the Twitter chapter and the chapter about her watching The Batchelor. She is an avid tweeter and for some unknown, unfathomable reason a Batchelor fan but it was really tedious to read her outdated tweets.

A few odd things. One, her sister Molly Weiner seems truly dreadful. I don’t want to diagnose over the page but she sounds like she is either a sociopath or someone with a narcissistic personality disorder. The endlessly getting people to do her bidding, harassing of her siblings, the making up of illnesses, the throwing tantrums until she gets her way into her twenties, admitting she did horrible things to people just to keep her life interesting? There is something off about this woman. I hope she is getting the help she needs and honestly if she was my sister, I would have stopped seeing her years ago.  Jennifer Weiner is much more of a people pleaser than I am though and the rest of the family except maybe the grandmother really enables her. I will say that Molly is funny, the scene where she yells out that their name is Rosenpenis to get into her grandmother’s retirement community because the FL guard would let them in if anyone said a remotely Jewish sounding name was hilarious.  Secondly, her mom is strange. She is described as being super blissful and optimistic but she really seems like a “benign neglect” style parent at best. She let her 16-year-old daughter date a 23-year-old because she “couldn’t stop her”, she offered up odd advice to her daughter when she was in a bad way (like borrow a car from your new boss when Weiner’s van–that she bought from her mom–broke down soon after, or borrow money from your unpaid internship) that made it seem like she was totally out of touch with the real world. Her father is undeniably awful after Jennifer Weiner is in elementary school or so but her mom didn’t seem to step up at all. Plus her mom starting dating women and moved on into her house without telling anyone, even her son who came home from college to find a stranger living in his house. This is not normal behavior. Again, I would have distanced myself from her too but instead, she lives in Jennifer Weiner’s summer house for half the year. Oy. Jennifer Weiner’s rocky past, full of teasing, insecurities about her weight and horrible men really seems to make her want to cling to her family despite their behavior to her in their past. I can’t really relate to that. The third thing I found odd was really more problematic. When she goes to see the apartment that her dad died in she says it looks like a prison and was full of families living there as part of the Section 8 (low income) housing program. That struck me at best insensitive (there is nothing wrong with Section 8 housing and she was clearly implying that there was) and at worst racist. How does she know the people living there are using Section 8 vouchers? Surely she didn’t ask them and legally there are no signs up advertising the fact. The only reason could be that she thought they a. looked “poor” or b. weren’t white. That was disappointing to me but again, even after their father left she lived in a very privileged white world so I guess it isn’t terribly surprising. You’d think someone who was so wound up about women’s rights and equality would be more sensitive to issues surrounding the less fortunate but as we’ve seen a lot lately white woman feminism seems to leave a lot of people out of their outrage. She talks a lot about never feeling financially secure thanks to her father’s disappearance, gambling, and debits but she still had the means (even before the book) to rent nice apartments, finish Princeton (with loans instead of having her dad pay cash), and move around the country for work. That is still quite a bit of privilege. I can see why she is anxious about money but still, she doesn’t seem to realize she had it better than most for 95% of her childhood and well into college no matter how much of a screw up her father was.

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