Jennifer Weiner talks heading back to the beach in her next novel Big Summer
It’s going to be a Big Summer for Jennifer Weiner.
The New York Times best-selling author of such favorites as In Her Shoes and Good in Bed broke new ground last year with the intricately structured, sprawling historical novel Mrs. Everything, perhaps the most acclaimed book of her career. Now she’s returning with a new tome that longtime fans should delight in: Big Summer, which will whisk readers away to a weekend on Cape Cod. And EW has a first look.
But before we get there, the official synopsis: “Daphne Berg is a young woman finding her way in New York City while trying to make ends meet. Daphne has come a long way from her insecure younger self and feels good, on most days, about where she is in her life. But when an old friend comes calling, and with a huge favor to ask no less, Daphne has to decide whether to help the friend who treated her cruelly so many years ago.”
Weiner has exclusively shared the cover for her next page-turner with EW, and also took some time for a Q&A to reflect on the whirlwind experience of Mrs. Everything, the inspiration behind Big Summer, and the ideal location for readers to read her next summertime novel. (Hint: It’s not the beach!) Read on below. Big Summer publishes May 19, 2020, and is available for pre-order — and if you can’t wait that long, Weiner is holding a weekend fan retreat on Cape Cod, from April 24 to April 26. Check out the details for how to get in on the getaway.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Many heralded Mrs. Everything as a different kind of novel for you — a little more dramatic and sprawling. What was the reaction like for you? And how did it feel coming off that for Big Summer?
JENNIFER WEINER: I was very gratified at the reaction Mrs. Everything got from critics and readers. I took my time writing it — there was a four-year gap between novels — and it was definitely a bigger, swing-for-the-fences kind of book, so I was pleased when people responded to it the way that they did. So that was all great. But when you’ve just written your best-reviewed, best-received book, it can be a little daunting to think about what comes next. I was lucky that I had most of a draft of Big Summer written by the time Mrs. E was published, so I wasn’t paralyzed by fear of not living up to myself. I wanted Big Summer to excel in a different way, to be its own thing, and I hope that it is and that it does.
What was the inspiration for Big Summer? How did it first take shape in your mind?
When I was on either the sixth or seventh draft of Mrs. Everything, dealing with the intricacies of the timeline and the locations, I was so frustrated that I said to my husband, “My next book is going to take place over a weekend in Cape Cod.” No more timeline woes if everything happens in three days; no more “what’s the cross-street for the high school” or “what trees would grow in the parks” if it’s a place I know well. I wanted to simplify the elements that were driving me crazy with historical fiction, and take a long, hard look at a character and her life.
I had my character pretty quickly. I wanted to write about a young woman whose life is still ahead of her. So much of Mrs. Everything is about the consequences of big choices, so I wanted a woman who hadn’t made those big choices yet. Then I had to figure out what happened during the weekend. I decided on a wedding, because what has more potential for humor and pathos than a wedding? I decided there’d be a murder at the wedding, because what’s more dramatic than a murder? And I decided to make my main character an Instagram influencer, because I wanted to write about online culture and how it affects every aspect of her life, from love to money.
What’s the significance of the title?
Daphne is a plus-size woman — another world I know well — and her social media handle, and catch-all hashtag is “Big Time.” When she writes about clothes it’s “Big Looks,” when she writes about food it’s “Big Eats,” when she writes about dating it’s “Big Love.” So Big Summer is an outgrowth of “Big Time.” A big summer is also a summer where everything changes, and that fit, too.
Talk a little more about Daphne. What makes her unique as a character for you?
Daphne is a plus-size woman who struggles to find her place in the world, and who has a love-hate relationship with a friend who seems to have everything that Daphne wants: all of the beauty and money and status and confidence. I’ve written about women like Daphne before. What makes her unique is that she’s extremely online. She lives a lot of her life, and derives not only a lot of her income but also her sense of belonging and self-esteem, from social media. I read recently that Generation X — my generation — is the last group of adults who can remember being adults in a pre-internet world. Unlike me, Daphne’s always existed in a world where there were two versions of everyone — the IRL version, and the version you were building online. I was interested in exploring the distinction between those two identities, and talking about social media as a tool, which gets used for good and for bad.
You’ve been writing about the complicated relationships between women your whole career. How has your perspective and approach evolved from book to book?
Being a wife and mother — specifically the mother of two daughters — has given me a deeper perspective on the relationships between women, especially the bonds between mothers and daughters. With my early books, I was much more invested in the main characters, who were young women. Now, I like to think that I can still see their side of things, but I also sympathize much more with their mothers, and their grandmothers, and their stepmothers, and how those dynamics play out in day-to-day life or extremely charged situations.
This sounds like a perfect summer read. Any perfect place or locale, in your mind, where people should take time to read it?
I know my books get called beach reads, but I am very anti reading on the beach. Too much sand! Too much glare! Honestly, I would tell you to read my books wherever you’re happy and comfortable. For me, that’s waist deep in a swimming pool, with my book propped on the ledge.