By Debra Leithauser
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; C04
FLY AWAY HOME
By Jennifer Weiner
Atria. 401 pp. $26.99
As chick-lit masters go, Jennifer Weiner has certainly proved she can write a compelling beach read. She's published witty and irreverent books about disastrous boyfriends, struggling new moms and scheming sisters. But her eighth book is centered on a much less appealing character: a cheating politician.
The story unfolds through a series of chapters named for their narrators, a device about as original as the idea of a senator lured by the wiles of another woman. First up, we meet the wronged wife, Sylvie, who met Richard Woodruff in law school and has loved him and sacrificed for him ever since, even putting his career before their children. Then there's daughter No. 1, Diana, a perfectionist caught in a very imperfect marriage. And finally we meet the younger sister, Lizzie, the consummate wild child, who has never met a loser or a prescription drug she didn't like.
When Sen. Woodruff's little affair becomes big news, his wife and daughters retreat to find themselves, to face up to their pasts and to chart new futures. For Sylvie, that means not only figuring out what went wrong but whether to take him back. "After all, this was her life falling apart, the life she'd believed was a happy one, this was sadness mixed with visceral shame at not being enough of a woman for her man, because wasn't that, ultimately, what cheating meant?"
Sylvie takes refuge by holing up in her family's beach house. She eats what she wants and lets her hair spring back to its naturally curly state. She skips the girdles and power suits, teaches herself to cook and reflects on her life and how to help her now-grown daughters. Diana is facing divorce after stepping out on her incredibly dull husband ("his kisses were the dry pecks of a maiden aunt") for a tryst with a medical student. Lizzie, meanwhile, finally seems to be getting her act together, dating a great guy she really connects with.
Of the three, Sylvie is the most fleshed out and interesting. Diana and Lizzie each have some fun moments -- such as when Diana plays "doctor" with her younger lover, or when Lizzie bonds with Diana's son by letting him consume lots of TV and (the horror!) foods with high-fructose corn syrup. But the sisters end up being a bit too cliched, a disappointment all the greater because Weiner is known for creating compelling characters.
"Fly Away Home" might not live up to those Weiner favorites "Good in Bed" or "In Her Shoes," but it's not a total disappointment. Take it to the beach; just don't expect the characters to linger in your mind after you travel back home.
Leithauser is the editor of The Post Magazine.