Review: The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Genre/Pages: Fiction; 400
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: July 3, 2012
Rating: 2 bookmarks (borrow it)
Source: courtesy of Engelman & Co.
Natalie’s 1-Sentence Synopsis: Drawing on her experiences as a co-creator and executive producer of ABC Family’s State of Georgia, Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel is set in Los Angeles and tells the story of would-be screenwriter Ruthy Saunders’s big dreams and the obstacles she must overcome to achieve them.
After a car accident leaves 3-year-old Ruthie Saunders orphaned and disfigured, her grandmother steps in to raise her. 20 years later, Ruthie packs her bags and heads for California–with Grandma bringing up the rear–to try her hand at screenwriting.
While Ruthie’s grandmother seems to adjust seamlessly–finding television acting gigs as an extra and making friends–things are more difficult for Ruthie. She’s very self-conscious about her disfigured face and won’t go out without makeup and a hat but eventually lands a job as an assistant to Big Dave and Little Dave, television guys.
Three years later, Ruthie’s labor of love, The Next Best Thing, has been given the green light for production. With the celebrations barely over, Ruthie realizes that the executives are manning the reigns and that creative control is essentially out of her hands. On top of that, her boyfriend breaks up with her, leaving Ruthie to pine for the man of her dreams and former boss, Little Dave.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, many of the plot events of The Next Best Thing were drawn from Weiner’s experiences in sitcom land. I’d read Weiner’s tweets about The State of Georgia, a short-lived ABC Family show she worked on, but had never seen an episode.
After a bit of research, I learned that the showed starred Raven Simone as a plus-sized girl trying to make it big on Broadway except by the time filming rolled around, Simone was no longer plus-sized due to a dramatic weight loss. Simone said she had to wear padding for the filming–and that is exactly what happened in Ruthie Saunders’s fictional television show! A plus-sized girl was cast in the starring role and later showed up for filming as thin as a wraith.
I think this novel was a vehicle to tell Weiner’s side of the story on the cancellation of The State of Georgia--ie. the difficulties of working in Hollywood–instead of a story about someone trying to overcome obstacles. In Hollywood, story lines and plots are changed. Characters aren’t cast the way the author envisioned. Executives wield the power and if a show fails, it’s largely because it wasn’t produced like the screenwriter intended.
Weiner tosses in a motley crew of supporting characters–some of whom had potential–but fell flat. I was frustrated with Ruthie’s meekness and willingness to accept poor treatment from men, actors, and executives. The whole Hollywood scene was also tough to stomach, and I wanted Ruthie to either stand up for herself or pack it in and find a job in another industry. While it was interesting to get a peek into the world of Hollywood, ultimately The Next Best Thing didn’t quite live up to its name for me.