Jennifer Weiner is the kind of author who has to answer this Frequently Asked Question on her Web site: “You seem really cool, so maybe we could get together and have coffee?” I’m thinking this isn’t a question that comes up a lot for, say, Cormac McCarthy. But if you’ve read several of her bestsellers, you know what’s spurring all the lunch invites from fans: Weiner’s characters project a friendly, vulnerable, teasing, familiar quality that suggests you and the author could be BFFs. Alas, the woman’s not available for lunch. What with publishing her ninth novel, co-creating/co-executive producing a new ABC Family sitcom, and tweeting what Time magazine recently called one of 140 Twitter feeds “shaping the conversation,” it’s a wonder she has lunch at all.
Weiner’s latest novel, “Then Came You,” revolves around that most oddly intimate of modern-day transactions: egg donorship and surrogacy. The story — told from alternating perspectives — opens with Jules, a Princeton senior from a seriously broken family. She lives at a puzzled distance from her own beauty and the way it attracts men and repels women. Among those it attracts is a suit-clad representative of the Princeton Fertility Clinic, who’s interested in her body, but not in the usual way.
One of the book’s assets is its variety of characters. Annie, the eventual surrogate, is a 24-year-old stay-at-home mom whose husband, a TSA guard at the Philadelphia airport, is most turned on when she sports her skin-tight Phillies nightshirt (“I thought it made me look like a link of chorizo, but it was, I knew, his favorite”). There are interracial couples here and same-sex relationships that go beyond chick lit’s tired “my gay boyfriend” subplot.
But the most surprisingly sympathetic character in “Then Came You” is a chick-lit staple, albeit one made three-dimensional: the trophy wife. India Bishop — the woman in search of a baby — is a gold-digging Manhattan PR type who has snagged a wealthy older husband despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that everything about her is fake, from her nose to her name, from her caramel-colored hair to her cup size. But in Weiner’s hands, India’s crass actions elicit more sympathy than judgment.
Is there romance here? Yes and no. Each of these women has, or finds, love of some sort. But friendship is the main event. “Then Came You” is most centrally about women being each other’s fairy godmothers, each other’s “mysterious benefactors” — with money, with inspiration, with love, with learning, with luxury. If you’re a Weiner fan, one of those queuing up for a coffee date, you’ll lap it up. And if you don’t know her yet, here’s the place to start.
Deane is a writer who lives in Silver Spring.