Jennifer Weiner’s newest novel, Big Summer, released May 5, and we’re so glad it did, because it’s the perfect book for right now! We’re vacationing vicariously through Daphne Berg, who not only has an awesome job as a plus-size Instagram influencer, but also finds herself staying in a gorgeous Cape Cod mansion. Although we don’t envy Daphne’s situation—playing maid of honor for her toxic ex-BFF’s over-the-top wedding—we’ve plunged headfirst into the warm, soothing pages of her story and don’t wanna come up for air. That’s why we’re beyond excited to share our recent Q&A with Jennifer Weiner, who gave us the scoop on her writing inspiration, favorite vacation spots, TV and book recommendations, and what she’s working on next!
Big Summer incorporates many important themes, including body image, social media presence, and friendship. Also, that weekend wedding took a crazy turn we didn’t see coming at all! What first inspired you to start writing this book? Was there a specific scene or theme that served as the spark?
After I finished my 2019 novel, Mrs. Everything, which covered 70 years of American history, and took place in eras and in cities in which I’d never lived, I was ready for a break. My intention was to write something light and breezy that took place over a compressed period of time, with high stakes and heightened emotions. A wedding seemed like the obvious fit, and I chose the setting because I’ve spent a lot of time on the outer Cape and I know it well. Once I had my setting, my main character arrived. I knew I wanted to write about a young woman who was struggling with self-esteem and finding her purpose and place in the world…which, of course meant writing about social media and the Internet.
One of the themes we especially love is the impact of online culture on our real lives. Daphne is an Instagram influencer and her ex-best friend, Drue, is marrying a reality TV star. In Big Summer, you tackle our digital age so realistically without portraying it as necessarily good or bad. Did your own personal take on online culture evolve as you were writing the book?
I was a late adapter to Instagram, and I really didn’t know much about influencer culture before I started researching Big Summer. That research took me on a deep dive into some of Instagram’s tawdrier corners—I will never, ever get over the story of the hot young couple who presented their engagement scavenger hunt as this delightful spontaneous thing they were letting their fans get a glimpse of, and then the whole thing turned out to be not only scripted but sponsored. It would have been easy, and it was very tempting, to dismiss it as having nothing to do with me, but I realized that anyone who’s on social media is engaging in a kind of performance. Maybe we’re not as dishonest as the scammers, but we all make choices about what to show and what not to show, which filters and angles to use, how to frame and present what we’re sharing. Everyone who uses social media, including me, is leading a double life—the one that we actually live, and the one that we show. That’s something I find myself thinking about a lot as I post and engage with readers.
Now we have to ask more about that beautiful setting, since we are all about armchair travel these days. Big Summer takes place over a weekend at a fancy wedding in Cape Cod. Besides the fact that it’s gorgeous and you know it well, what about Cape Cod made you decide to set it there? Also, what vacation are you excited to go on after quarantine?
I grew up in Connecticut, and every summer we would spend a week or two on the Cape. Those towns, those beautiful, unspoiled, uncrowded beaches, that bracingly icy water, the sunsets, the drive-in movie theater in Wellfleet, the homemade ice cream at Sweet Escape and fried clams and onion rings at Arnold’s, all of that spells summer to me. I was so happy to be able to set the bulk of the book there, and share my love of the place with readers. And I am longing to go back and be at the beach again, so that’s where I’ll go, once it’s safe.
Here at Get Lit, we’re obsessed with pop culture, so we can’t help but wonder: What have you been watching, reading, and/or listening to lately? Basically, please tell us everything you’re loving these days.
My husband and I are watching Friday Night Lights for the first time, and it is really kind of a perfect show—it’s funny and touching and dramatic and real. I loved Unorthodox on Netflix, which was about a young Orthodox Jewish woman who runs away from her abusive marriage and tries to start a new life in Berlin, and Dark, a German series about time travel and a town with a lot of secrets, and fate versus free will. I also loved Tales from the Loop on Amazon Prime, which was based on a book of art photography. It’s a series of linked episodes that all take place in a small Midwestern town whose residents have a different relationship to time and technology than the rest of us. The juxtaposition of rusting robots and idyllic Midwestern settings was compelling and beautiful, and it asks some of the same questions as Dark, about fate and destiny and what you’d do over, if you could. It’s a little bit of a slow burn, but it pays off if you give it time.
I’ve also been reading a ton, mostly Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, none of which I’d read before, about a time-traveling nurse from the 1940s (hey, I’m sensing a theme here!) and her hot, kilt-wearing Scottish lover. There are seven of them, each about a thousand pages long, and they’re meticulously researched and so engrossing.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?!
All I can tell you—which, coincidentally, is all I know so far—is that it’s going to be about two women who have the same name, and almost identical email addresses, and how one woman starts getting the other one’s email, and becomes interested in—maybe even obsessed with— her life.