Jennifer Weiner’s new book Big Summer (Atria, $28) has everything you’d hope to find in a beach read: complicated female friendships, unhappy rich people, a hardworking heroine with an eye for fashion, and an Instagram-worthy setting for an over-the-top wedding on Cape Cod.
If only it came with its own wide-open beach, or maybe a force field to keep other beachgoers at a safe distance.
The best-selling author, who lives in Queen Village with her husband and two daughters, is, like most of us, not venturing far from home right now. She spoke with The Inquirer this week about releasing a beach book during a global pandemic, the real-life murder case that inspired one story line, and what she had to learn to understand her heroine Daphne’s life as a plus-sized Instagram “influencer.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
I was actually the one driving the bus in that case, which is not always how it goes in the publishing world. When it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a book tour, and that a lot of bookstores weren’t even going to be open, we had a conversation. The options were to postpone the publication, probably till summer 2021 because later in the summer still looked pretty uncertain, and it’s hard to sell a book called Big Summer in the fall.
So it was either push it into the future, stick with the original publication date, or go sooner. And I was advocating going sooner because of all the books that I’ve ever written, Big Summer is one of the lighter and breezier ones. It’s set at a beach and it has that kind of escapist summer read feeling. And I figured everybody could use a little bit of that right now.
I hope that Big Summer will give people some of the sense memories of being at a place that they love. I hope that the descriptions of the scenes and the food and the way it smells and the way things look, all of that, is maybe going to give people like a tiny bit of an imaginary vacation. I mean, listen, I was supposed to go on this trip to Alaska this summer, and that’s not happening. So I am just as disappointed as everyone else who’s had to cancel something they were really looking forward to.
Yes. Because it was the only killing on the Outer Cape for a long, long time. And because it was an unsolved mystery for a long, long time. People still talk about it.
Because I spend a lot of time out there, because I grew up going there as a kid, that part of the world always interested me. And that case particularly interested me, because as Daphne says in the book, the term slut-shaming wasn’t in the vernacular when Christa Worthington’s case was [first] in the news. But if it had been, I think that the way that that case was sort of tried in the media would have been Exhibit A for “this is what it looks like to blame a victim for her own death.”
I didn’t know anything about that world. I didn’t get it at first — who are these young women, and why does anyone care what they’re doing or what they’re wearing? “Famous for nothing” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, and I think, perhaps, more about women than men. The Kardashians were famous for nothing, like, what did they do to deserve their audience? Well, the truth is, they worked really hard to shape their life into a story that people cared about, which I think is what influencers have done.
I just kind of assumed like, OK, Anthropologie pays me to wear a dress and I take a picture of myself and I post the picture. And then I get money every time somebody buys the dress.
I had to have somebody walk me through it. What would happen would be Anthropologie would send you a link to their website, and you’d have to choose something. But it could only be from the clothes that were on sale for this 10-day period. And then they’d send you the outfit and you’d have to style it, and in such a way that it looked really great, but that people would only want to buy the thing that you were selling, and not the necklace or the boots, or the hair clip, or whatever.
And you’d have to stage the picture, take the picture, edit the picture, crop the picture, filter it, put it up, and then you put in a code. And hopefully the people who saw it would use that code and then they’d go buy the dress, and then you’d get like, a penny every time somebody bought it.
It is an absurd amount of work for most of the people who are “influencers.” And the people at the top of the food chain are making a ton of money. And I think that the vast, vast majority are working really hard for not a great return.
I think there are universals about being a woman at that point in her life, and I can remember a lot of how it felt. But there are definitely things that have changed. And one is the internet. That part did take a lot of research and a lot of spending time online and paying attention to Instagram, and how people were interacting and what they care about, and just how different it is being extremely online the way that this generation is.
I feel really lucky because my daughters are old enough to be sort of self-sustaining. I don’t have little kids who need me all the time. In fact, I think that they both kind of wish I would leave them alone. We have plenty of food and nobody’s sick. My mom is fine. My husband’s parents are OK down in Florida.