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“Good in Bed” author Jennifer Weiner of Philadelphia is one of the funniest and most precious natural resources around. Weiner has written a wonderful book for anyone who at any time has felt uncomfortable in his or her own skin and for those who simply like to laugh out loud. Cannie Shapiro, the book’s heroine, is an extraordinary, multidimensional character who teaches us that happiness doesn’t begin at size 2 and end at size 6. This main character, incidentally, bears a physical and emotional resemblance to author Weiner. As the book opens, 28-year-old Cannie has broken up with her boyfriend, Bruce, who, much to Cannie’s horror, has taken their breakup as an opportunity to share his intimate experiences with Cannie with the broad readership of the popular Moxie Magazine. The column, “Good in Bed,” is sensitively titled “Loving a Larger Woman.” Cannie’s reaction is swift and immediate: “I’ll kill him!” Spilling her M&M’s all over the floor, the furious, hysterical Cannie screams out to her newsroom colleagues, “Does anyone know anything about getting a gun in this state?” “We’re working on a series,” is the calm response from a nearby editor. A short discussion follows among various, oblivious, news-focused reporters about whether the two-week waiting period and 25-year-old age restrictions apply to rental cars or guns. But Cannie, homicidal, raging and frustrated, shouts out for further clarification: “Pennsylvania has the death penalty, right?” “We’re working on a series,” the city editor replies, thoughtfully. Bruce does not die in the book, but his father, Bernard, does. Notwithstanding her breakup with Bruce, Cannie goes to the funeral. Later, Cannie rethinks her attendance at Bernard’s funeral: “Thinking back, there was probably some way I could have felt worse at Bernard Guberman’s funeral. Like if I had killed him myself.” This book, however, is not a murder mystery, and Cannie is not a homicidal maniac. Rather, “Good in Bed” is a fabulously funny and touching novel about inter alia body size, relationships, Philadelphia, Princeton, self-image, love, dating, divorce, parenting, pets, depression, rejection and, perhaps most important, acceptance of oneself. Weiner is a gifted humorist. For example, after Cannie’s breakup with Bruce, her mother takes her to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market to illustrate that there are other fish in the sea. Literally. Pointing to the layers of dead fish nicely heaped in an ice-filled showcase, her mother urges Cannie to “think of each fish as a single guy.” Cannie complies, staring back at the fish. “They have better manners. … Some of them are probably better conversationalists, too.” Weiner can even make filling out a set of questionnaires at a weight-loss program funny: “Name. That was easy. Height. No problem. Current weight. Ack. Lowest weight maintained as an adult. Did 14 count as an adult?” Cannie, like Weiner, graduated from Princeton, which Weiner says “looked like the staging ground for a very successful eugenics experiment … acres of shiny hair, straight teeth and perfect bodies.” There is much for all of us to experience, learn and laugh about in this poignant book. Take body size. As Weiner so wittily conveys in her book, we are obsessed with it. Our perception of our body size, whether realistic or not, impacts how we see ourselves and defines how we think others see us. It shapes, colors and defines our expectations of ourselves and what we assume others will expect from us. “Invisible armor,” Weiner calls it, that you wear “fully expecting to be shot at.” Our self-image and love are at times interchangeable. Our body size may influence whether we believe we are lovable and capable of loving and capable of being loved. We frequently associate weight loss with love, happiness and beauty, and weight gain with failure. Simply put, Maxi, a thin celebrity Cannie befriends in the story, concludes that thin people think that if they get fat, people won’t love them. Fat people think that unless they are thin, people won’t love them. The book is both funny and sobering. Toward the end, in a particularly moving response to her former boyfriend’s columns, Cannie writes: “There were a thousand words that could have described me — smart, funny, kind, generous. But the word I picked — the word that I believed the world had picked for me — was fat.” Later in that passage, Cannie observes that “the truth is this — I’m all right the way I am.” This very powerful message is a self-affirming one that you want to read again and again to yourself, your children and your grandchildren and have stamped some place visible, like on your forehead. Many of Cannie’s experiences parallel Weiner’s. Cannie’s parents, like Weiner’s, divorced when Cannie was a teen-ager, and she was raised almost exclusively by her mother. Weiner uses words as brilliantly colored brushstrokes to create a vivid portrait of divorce by describing Cannie’s childhood suburban neighborhood: “There are two kinds of houses in the neighborhood where I grew up — the ones where the parents stayed married and the ones where they didn’t. … Given only a cursory glance, both kinds of houses look the same. … But look closer — or, better yet, stay awhile — and you’ll start to see the difference. … “The divorce houses are the ones where the Chem-Lawn truck doesn’t stop any more, the ones the plowing guy drives past on the mornings after winter storms. … “But mostly you could tell on Saturday mornings. … One by one, they’d exit their cars, trudge up the walkways, ring the bells of the homes where they used to sleep and collect their kids. … The days, my friends would tell me, would be full of every kind of extravagance. … On Sunday morning, the parade would begin again, only in reverse. … For two, three, four years they’d come. Then they’d vanish — remarried, mostly, or moved away. … “I always wondered, though, what fathers felt as they drove up the street they used to drive down every night, and whether they really saw their former houses, whether they noticed how things got frayed and flaky around the edges now that they were gone.” “Frayed and flaky around the edges” clearly describes more than just the physical home of her childhood. The book also reflects the devastating impact a parent may have on the self-esteem of a child. The raw wounds caused by a father’s abandonment of the family, lack of acknowledgment and stark rejection are painfully described in “Good in Bed.” Weiner, through Cannie, portrays the profound affect a parent has on a child through spoken and unspoken words. What a parent says and does not say to a child influences how a child views herself or himself. Once more, Cannie’s experience is not dissimilar from Weiner’s. Weiner movingly describes a scene in which Cannie, as an adult, sees and confronts her estranged father. Despite the history and reality of abandonment and rejection, Cannie has held onto her lifelong hope for some kind of sign of acceptance or recognition from her father. Yet, not completely unexpectedly, he once more refuses to acknowledge her: “I wanted him to ask me things. … I couldn’t help myself. … I reached for him. … He never stopped walking. … He never even slowed down.” Ironically, Weiner’s personal experiences were somewhat modified for “Good in Bed.” “Nobody could be that cruel,” commented an editor who read the initial description of Weiner’s experiences with her father and with her parents’ divorce and asked Weiner to modify it to make it more believable. Never having been a size 6 mentally or physically, there was an immediate kinship with Weiner when I heard her talk about her book and chuckle during an interview on National Public Radio. And admittedly, I am the one person, perhaps in the entire universe, who thought Shrek would have been an even greater movie if the toothpick-figured Princess, who was under an evil, appearance-altering spell, had turned into a chubby ogre when the spell was broken. I am, however, merely one of Weiner’s many enthusiastic fans: Philadelphia Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times and even the Jewish Exponent have praised Weiner’s book. Heavily. “Good in Bed” is clearly a hit. Big time. Sara Lee Goren has a private practice focusing on family law; she is also a divorce and custody mediator.

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