Thursday, July 25, 2013

For Once, I'm Not Interested in Shoes

In Her Shoes
by Jennifer Weiner
Published by Atria
2 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

***Some mild spoilers ahead***

Typically, this isn't my kind of book and, if the rating system allowed for half stars, I would have more accurately given it a 2 1/2. This is one of those it was the right book for the right time scenarios. I had just finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four andFahrenheit 451 and, suffering a dystopian hangover, needed something light that didn't involve too much thinking. This certainly fit the bill. 

From the get-go we have a stereotypical plot: two sisters (one pretty but dumb and the other smart but plain) who are insanely jealous of one another despite their bond. However, this stereotype exists because there is a component of jealousy in many same-gender sibling relationships. No matter how much the two love one another, siblings often feel as though they are being compared to one another by parents, family, friends, society at large, and examined for deficiencies that become obvious when compared against their genetic foil. The smart one always wants to be pretty; the pretty one always wants to be smart. The athletic one secretly wants to be a book nerd; the book nerd always wants to be able to dunk a basketball. The one with curly hair always wants straight hair; the one with straight hair longs for curly locks. We end up envying precisely what the other hates or loathes in himself or herself. Maggie and Rose are no exception. There's some rich material to work with here, and Weiner does realistically portray the root causes of the sisters' envy for one another. She also takes some chances: further complicating their relationship is their mother, whose mental illness leads to her death while the girls are still young; the beautiful Maggie suffers from a debilitating learning disability that effectively limits her chances at success in the entertainment industry (she can't read the teleprompter during an MTV audition that she would have otherwise had in the bag); Maggie betrays Rose's trust to such a magnitude that their relationship may be beyond repair (no one can hurt you like a sister and Weiner takes advantage of the opportunity to challenge the sisters' relationship). Oh, and thank heavens she didn't take the route of making the overweight Rose thin by the end.

Having said all of that, there were certainly some things I did not love. There's a subplot involving the long-lost maternal grandmother that slowed down the narrative for me. Also, Maggie and Rose just weren't likable characters. These are not two women I would ever want to know in real life. They're self-involved and often petty. I'm also not buying that Rose quit her job to become a dog walker, nor that Maggie lives in the Princeton library and miraculously becomes a literary genius (by the novel's end, Maggie's reading every great literary classic she can get her hands on and spouting poetry like a water fountain). I'm not saying that someone with a learning disability is incapable of doing this, only that Weiner never plausibly made me believe Maggie was capable of doing this. If there was one perk of the inclusion of Maggie's reading of One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, i carry your heart with me(i carry it in by E. E. Cummings, and several classic literary texts, it's that it reminded me that there are certainly better books out there and, even though Weiner's work was somewhat humorous and mildly entertaining, maybe my time would be better served reading some of those. 

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