Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
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?
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?
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 so?
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?
"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?
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?
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?
How do Cannie's understandings of and feelings about
her mother's relationship with Tanya evolve over the course of this story?
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
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.
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.]
"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 novel?
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?
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?
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.
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? Explain.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Washington Square Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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