I enjoyed Jennifer Weiner's first novel years ago at the recommendation of a friend who had just read it. I really enjoyed it, but she went off my radar screen for a while, because none of her other novels had come out. When a publicist contacted me and asked if I would like a copy of The Guy Not Taken for possible review on my blog, I said yes very quickly!
This is a collection of short stories. I do not seek out short stories to read, but I don't dislike them. I just don't know if I would think to buy a collection of short stories. However, after reading Fifteen Candles recently (which I will review Monday in the 5 Minutes for Books column) and then this book, I've decided that a collection of stories or vignettes is perfect reading for a woman who doesn't have hours on end to read a novel, or someone who devotes her time to pursuits other than reading (be it TV or housework, both of which I can easily give up if a book is beckoning).
What made this even more enticing is that the first three stories feature the same characters, making it read almost like a seventy-six page novella. By the time you get through those stories, you'll be hooked. The fact that they all deal with a guy--taken or not taken as the case may be--and I think that most if not all of them also feature swimming, binds them together in another way. The strongest tie is that they are all written by Jennifer Weiner, an excellent storyteller.
Several stories and characters will remain with me. My favorite is "The Mother's Hour," which deals with a playgroup and an unlikely friendship between two women. "Oranges from Florida" is the most different from the others, most obviously because it's written from a male character's point of view, but in it's unique voice and theme, it stands out. The story for which the collection is named, "The Guy Not Taken," will be going into movie production soon. I think that most of us have mused about what our life might be like if we ended up with a different guy (I say mused, not wished). Marlie explores the reality of this fantasy and actually gets to see the "what if."
I will definitely be reading more from Jennifer Weiner. I was glad to have been reminded of her work. She has a blog, Snarkspot where she discusses books and writing and motherhood. There's also a link to her reading a bit of one of the stories, "Swim." The reading guide at the end of this collection contains insight about how and why she wrote each of these stories, as well as questions which would be great to explore with a book group or some girlfriends.
*I always feel rather puritanical when I'm reviewing fiction or memoir, because I always feel like I need to call attention to any excessive language or "romantic" scenes or violence. The reason I do this is that I take seriously the admonition not to cause another to stumble. Each of us have sensitivities to different subjects. I've often read a book or seen a movie based on the recommendation of someone who I thought had similar ideas to mine about what was appropriate, and been surprised. So I've come up with my own system for rating books so that each reader can decide for herself if a book is within the boundaries of what she would enjoy. I would rate this a strong PG (and check my guidelines, because it's not exactly the same as the movie ratings).
This review is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.