Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner: A Review


Hungry Heart is a memoir by bestselling novelist Jennifer Weiner.  Weiner describes her childhood living with a father who adores her and then becomes verbally abusive and abandons his family due to mental illness and a mother who is a lesbian but hides it from her family in order to have children.  She struggles with, and then comes to terms with, her weight and feelings of inadequacy when it comes to dating.  Weiner grows up, attends Princeton where she becomes an activist for feminist causes, achieves her dream job and becomes a best-selling author.

When I added this book to by to my TBR list, I thought it would be a similar memoir to Jen Lancaster's memoirs.  Lancaster is funny, relate-able and endlessly entertaining.  Reviews described Weiner's memoir as funny and compared her work to that of Tina Fey's (of which I did find funny).  I did not see that as the case with this memoir.  About 70% of this book is about Weiner's childhood and early adulthood.  It is entertaining and, at times, funny.  The other 30% of the book ruined it for me, though.  She spent most of that time complaining and whining.  Weiner warns her daughters that life is very unfair and that they will be judged for their bodies and not for what is in their minds and their hearts.  While this is often the case for young women in today's society, Weiner has been successful, incredibly so, despite the perceived hangups about her body and appearance.  It is unlikely that she was denied a career, an education or even happiness in love because she is a size 16. 

Not only does she complain but Weiner contradicts herself.  When an unsavory story about her father is written in the media and becomes fodder for late night monologues, Weiner is upset and ponders, "if any of those people, the DJs and the late-night joke writers, ever thought to ask whether the person they were mocking had kids, and how those kids might have felt, hearing the jokes".  She doesn't take her own advice, though, as she writes offensive jokes on Twitter about former Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, and his meeting with Saint Peter, within hours of his unexpected death.  Just for the record, Antonin Scalia has nine children and I am sure that they felt the joke was as untimely and inappropriate as did Weiner and her siblings did when they heard jokes about their father.  While I don't agree with all of Scalia's opinions and Weiner absolutely has the right to say anything she wants to in a society that prizes free speech, to use the fact that she feels that some of Scalia's opinions are immoral is not a good excuse.  While I don't necessarily feel offended by her political opinions, there are many people out there who probably feel that some of Weiner's opinions are immoral but she wants us to be accepting of her opinions and keep ours to ourselves.  Voting a fit, pretty Miss America pageant contestant lower than her fellow contestants in order to "unwork" what Weiner perceives as misogyny and unfairness towards more diverse body types is just as unfair as someone voting someone lower because they possess that larger body type which Weiner is trying to make more acceptable.  Would it not be more productive (and, honestly, healthy) to push towards celebrating larger women alongside thinner women instead of following the old, tired act of belittling thin women (or any majority) while lamenting unfairness and cruelty for being belittled similarly?  Shaming anyone is not an effective answer and that really effected my opinion of this memoir considerably.

I would probably be a fan of Weiner's novels, as she describes them in Hungry Heart.  I probably will read Good in Bed and Little Earthquakes at some point, despite never having read anything by Jennifer Weiner before.  Her memoir, however, did not sit well with me.  I had to push myself to finish it through all the kvetching, moaning and then the hypocrisy.  When I read a memoir, I don't need to believe the same things as the writer or agree with what they do.  I don't even need to understand why they believe what they believe or do what they do (though I do try to understand and, ironically, understood much of Weiner's positions) but I do need an honesty and consistency that I did not find in this memoir.  For this reason, I have to give it two out of five stars and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that I know, especially not a girl or young woman who I wanted to feel better about her body.  I hope to find a better feminist memoir that aims to teach women to accept their bodies, as is, regardless of whether that "as is" is fat or thin.

Reviews of books like this one:
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

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