For twenty-eight years, things have been tripping along nicely for
Cannie Shapiro. Sure, her mother has come charging out of the
closet, and her father has long since dropped out of her world. But
she loves her friends, her rat terrier, Nifkin, and her job as pop
culture reporter for The Philadelphia Examiner. She''s even made a
tenuous peace with her plus-size body.
But the day she opens up a national women''s magazine and sees
the words "Loving a Larger Woman" above her ex-boyfriend''s byline,
Cannie is plunged into misery...and the most amazing year of her
life. From Philadelphia to Hollywood and back home again, she
charts a new course for herself: mourning her losses, facing her
past, and figuring out who she is and who she can become.
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. With Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner has garnered a lot
of early praise for her alternately hilarious and poignant
dialogue, and also for her pitch-perfect ear in rendering the
conversational rhythms of Cannie''s first-person narrative voice.
Looking back through the novel, what is it about the dialogue that
works so well? In what ways does it serve to subtly develop each
character''s motivations and idiosyncrasies?
2. Discuss, in connection with the previous question, the
specific tone and quality of Cannie Shapiro''s voice. What
techniques does Weiner employ to make Cannie''s musings and
descriptions come across so intimately? What sets the author''s
style apart from that of other contemporary authors? To which
novelists would you say Weiner bears the closest comparison?
3. Cannie Shapiro is, among other things, a woman struggling to
emerge from the shadow cast by her father''s emotional abuse and
aggressive abandonment. How successful is she, finally, in doing
4. In what ways do we see the painful legacy of Cannie''s early
relationship with her father (whom she dubs "the Original
Abandoner") at work in the action of this novel, affecting the
tenor of Cannie''s relationships, choices, and/or motivations? To
what degree can we view Bruce as a stand-in for her father?
5. "Maybe," Bruce writes in his notorious Moxie debut,
"it was the way I''d absorbed society''s expectations, its dictates
of what men are supposed to want and how women are supposed to
appear. More likely, it was the way she had. C. was a dedicated
foot soldier in the body wars....C. couldn''t make herself
invisible. But I know that if it were possible -- if all the
slouching and slumping and shapeless black jumpers could have
erased her from the physical world, she would have gone in an
instant." With these lines, from the novel''s opening chapter,
Weiner begins to lay the framework for the larger themes that
temper, texture, and lend weight to the comedy and romance
propelling Cannie''s story. What are these themes and issues, and
how are they developed throughout the rest of the novel?
6. The real-life specter of the Lewinsky-Clinton debacle looms
in the background of this novel''s fictional landscape. How does
the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- and, more to the point, the
witheringly cruel and petty reception that accompanied Lewinsky''s
emergence in media stories -- speak to the novel''s portraits of
male-female relationships in a body-obsessed culture?
7. How accurate is it to say that body fat has become, as Bruce
writes in his column, "the only safe target in our politically
correct world," the last "acceptable" object of societal prejudice?
Where do we see this sort of prejudice at work? And in our
advertising-drenched, consumer-driven society, where beauty and
youth seem to be the chief signifiers of power and happiness, what
are the implications and consequences of this prejudice?
8. How do Cannie''s understandings of and feelings about her
mother''s relationship with Tanya evolve over the course of this
9. Are Tanya''s cloying penchants for therapy-speak, rainbow
flags, and "tofurkey" enough to justify the hostile attitude and
relentlessly barbed humor Cannie directs toward her? Why or why
not? In what way might the absence of Cannie''s father be
contributing to her animosity? What else?
10. Recalling a lecture from Psych 101 on the behavioral effects
of random reinforcement, Cannie realizes that she''s "become [her]
father''s rat." What is going on here? Unpack the meanings of
Cannie''s metaphor, and discuss how it relates to her subsequent
relationships with men.
11. Look at Good in Bed in the context of other
contemporary novels, movies, and plays about young, professional,
single women looking for love and happiness in the big city. To
what degree does this novel echo and reinforce certain narrative
traditions you''ve come to expect from the genre, and in what ways
does it depart from or redefine these traditions? [You might, for
example, discuss Weiner''s novel alongside recent works by Melissa
Bank, Helen Fielding, and Candace Bushnell.]
12. "What I wanted, I thought, pressing my pillow hard against
my face, was to be a girl again. To be on my bed in the house I''d
grown up in...to be little, and loved. And thin. I wanted that." If
we were to describe Good in Bed as the story of one
woman''s search for a true home, what elements would make up
Cannie''s ideal home? And how does this ideal change during the
13. If you had to distill the themes, politics, and essential
storyline of Good in Bed into three sentences for a
write-up in the "And Bear in Mind" section of The New York
Times Book Review, what would you say?
14. In the hospital after her fall at the airport, Cannie admits
only to herself that the real source of all her anger was the fact
that she "had failed Joy." What does she mean?
15. Where do you see Cannie, Joy, Peter, Maxi, Samantha, and
Bruce five years after the close of the book? Outline the story arc
of a Good in Bed sequel.
16. How well do you relate personally to Cannie''s perceptions
of life in a culture dominated by the zillion-dollar diet, beauty,
and cosmetic surgery industries? How much of yourself and/or your
friends do you see in the character of Cannie Shapiro? Do you agree
with all of her choices? Relate to all of her motivations?