Jennifer Weiners snappy new novel, The Next Best Thing, is a sendup of Hollywood foibles loosely based on her experience as co-creator and executive producer of the short-lived sitcom State of Georgia.
Fans might remember the books protagonist, Ruth Saunders, from the short story Swim in Weiners 2006 collection, The Guy Not Taken. Ruths been living in Framingham, Mass., with her grandmother since she was 3 and her parents died in a car accident that left the right side of her face scarred.
During the summer before third grade, while she was in the hospital undergoing a series of painful reconstructive surgeries, she fell in love with television, in particular the perfect world of The Golden Girls:
The weather was always warm and the skies were always sunny, and no crisis could not be managed in twenty-two minutes plus two commercial breaks. In that happy land, not everyone was beautiful, or young, or perfect. Not everyone had romantic love. But everyone had friends, a family theyd chosen. It was that love that sustained them, and that love, I imagined, could sustain me, too.
As the novel opens, Ruth, now 28 and living in Los Angeles, tries to create a little of that TV magic herself.
She writes a show called The Next Best Thing, about a young woman who moves to a new town with her grandmother to start over.
Always acutely self-conscious, Ruth discovered in high school that writing could be a way to use my voice, funny-mean and observant, to earn my keep, to make my name, to carve out a place in the world.
When her sitcom gets greenlighted, Ruth thinks shes finally arrived. But things on and off the set dont work out the way she planned: She falls in love with her boss, who already has a gorgeous girlfriend; the shows plus-size star sabotages her own part; and Ruths hilarious 76-year-old grandma finds she wants a life of her own in Los Angeles.
The Next Best Thing showcases Weiners humor and style. Its also a reminder that, as Mick Jagger sings, You cant always get what you want, but with enough effort you might get what you need, and that makes the next best thing feel all right.