Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love and Writing
I have loved Jennifer Weiner since I picked up Good in Bed at an airport many years ago. I found that book to be, quite frankly, revolutionary. It was the first novel where the fat girl gets the boy that I had ever read, and as a fat girl myself, that meant it was the first time I could see myself on the page. I was in college and it was the first time anyone in popular culture had presented to me the radical notion that someone could love someone who looked like me. We always want to see ourselves in the things we love, and the book felt like a small gift.
There are flaws in that book, and I haven’t loved every single one of her works, but I’ve liked them all. What I have generally appreciated, however, is her Twitter presence. Not only her commentary on The Bachelor/ette, which I enjoy even when not watching the show, but her fight to ensure that female authors and books writing with a female audience in mind are treated equally. She’s taken on big name authors and major news outlets with both data and emotion, and has not backed down.
Thus, when given the opportunity to read and review her memoir, I emailed our publisher back so fast I’m sure her head spun.
Unlike some other memoirs, which focus on a section of someone’s life, this one attempts to tackle Ms. Weiner’s life in totality. There are themes – feminism, body image, parent relations – but mostly she tells us about her life. She lays everything on the page, as both an explanation and a statement of defiance. She is not vapid, like her critics say, nor are her books useless.
The strongest sections, for me, are the later ones. Her detailed account of the process of finding out her estranged father had died, the description of her decision to get bariatric surgery, telling stories of how one of her books got made into a movie. These bits were my favorites. The chapter entitled A Few Words About Bodies is a particular gem, as is the collection of tweets about The Bachelor/ette franchise.
The chapters in which she talks about about her body are written in a vulnerable, yet chatty tone. In this way, this book would be a good companion to Lindy West’s recent Shrill; both are treatises on the way women’s bodies are publicly discussed and analyzed. While they’re told with different emphases and in vastly different tones, the larger narratives run parallel. Bodies are both private and public things and the faster you feel comfortable in your own on your own terms, the better your life will be.
Weiner lost me a few times in the details of her narratives, and they often verged on the long-winded. I found myself jumping around in the book, reading the chapter titles that called to me, and even re-reading some. By the time I finished the entire book, I was left feeling that Weiner is a warm presence both on and off the page. Her writing is deeply descriptive and the level of detail she goes into may be too much for some readers. At nearly 500 pages, Hungry Heart may be the longest memoir I’ve ever read and, despite Weiner’s warmth, I felt fatigued.
That said, the book is definitely a solid read for her fans. However, anyone else who is interested in the discussion around the professional treatment of women in publishing, or the politics of being a woman with an internet presence, or narratives of complicated families, will all find something worthwhile here.