Today marks the official opening of the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011. *throws confetti* It is my year-long homage to Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. Please read all the details of the event and join in the challenge open until March 1, 2011.
My first selection is the bestselling, feel good, let’s laugh and cry novel of 2010, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine. It will be released in paperback on February 1st, so no more procrastinating because of pocketbook woes.
There are so many raving reviews of this novel on the Internet I feel very late to the party. I usually write rambling book and movie reviews in excruciating detail, but for this challenge I am trying a new approach. Tell me if you like it, or hate it. I know you will. ;-) Here is the publisher description followed by my brief impressions:
Jane Austen’s beloved Sense and Sensibility has moved to Westport, Connecticut, in this enchanting modern-day homage to the classic novel. When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy eight years old and she was seventy-five . . . He said the words “Irreconcilable differences,” and saw real confusion in his wife’s eyes. “Irreconcilable differences?” she said. “Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?” Thus begins The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a sparkling contemporary adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from the always winning Cathleen Schine, who has already been crowned “a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen” by People’s Leah Rozen.
In Schine’s story, sisters Miranda, an impulsive but successful literary agent, and Annie, a pragmatic library director, quite unexpectedly find themselves the middle-aged products of a broken home. Dumped by her husband of nearly fifty years and then exiled from their elegant New York apartment by his mistress, Betty is forced to move to a small, run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. Joining her are Miranda and Annie, who dutifully comes along to keep an eye on her capricious mother and sister. As the sisters mingle with the suburban aristocracy, love starts to blossom for both of them, and they find themselves struggling with the dueling demands of reason and romance.
My Quibbles: The main characters were shallow, self-absorbed and hard to like; slim caricatures of Austen originals. Two fifty-something unmarried ladies and a seventy-something divorcee talking about themselves and wallowing in misery is not Austenish, at all. What happened to a witty comedy of manners? Maybe that was the author’s point. Are we more materialistic and bitter than nineteenth-century ladies in the same circumstances? Even though Betty (Mrs. Dashwood) was thrown over by her husband of fifty years for a woman half her age, I began to think he had good reason. Making Miranda (the Marianne character) a calculating literary agent gave me the shivers for those honorable agents in the profession, and Annie (the Elinor) the librarian, who should be stoic and admirable, is supporting her mother and sister, why? She is more an enabler of bad behavior than a help. Ack! The romance was more than a bit thin, and the end Louisa? Don’t even get me started. Find out for yourself!
My Praise: Funny, irreverent and quirky. The transformation of Austen’s early-nineteenth century classic to modern-day New York and Westport, Connecticut was a clever notion, mainly because of Schine’s understanding of the social context of both cultures. The Jewish humor was so appropriate. They have been persecuted for centuries and do irony and misery better than anyone else. When seventy-five year old impoverished Betty Weissmann rationalizes a shopping spree to Brooks Brothers and Tiffany’s in New York before she meets her soon-to-be-ex-husband and his attorney, because she must look stunning, you totally believe her and understand her character’s motivation. You do not agree, but you understand. While her daughter Miranda must have a shiny new red kayak to find her soul, you roll your eyes and compare Austen’s Marianne Dashwood romanticizing over dead leaves. Schine follows Austen’s narrative pretty closely and modernizes it surprisingly. The characters are foibled and fraught with emotion and angst. The secondary characters add humor and conflict. If you can overlook some of the shallow soul searching, profligate spending and incredible coincidences that fuel the plot, this was a fun lark, albeit a bit annoying at times.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
A Grand Giveaway
Win one of two paperback copies of The Three Weissmann’s of Westport, by Cathleen Schine, by leaving a comment by midnight PT February 2, 2011 stating what intrigues you about reading a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility. Winners will be announced on Thursday, February 3, 2011. Shipment to US addresses only.
The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine
Trade paperback (304) pages
© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose