The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine – A Review

The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine (2011)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
Picador (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0312680527

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 9

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 12th – 18th, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

New author Jenni James of Northanger Alibi, a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey influenced by Twilight, lands the Austenesque book publicity coup of the decade! Wow. This might be a first for Austen on TV.

Noteworthy:

Author and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum website.

The beautiful new hardback editions of Penguin Classics are featured in a Elle Decor article including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interview of Monica Fairview, author of The Darcy Cousins at Austenprose. Swag contest ends 23 April 2010.

Author Jane Odiwe of Austen Sequels Blog features a preview of the new debut novel First Impressions, by Alexa Adams.

Regency Mourning Fashions in England by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World is featured in the Suite 101.com online repository of insightful writers and informed readers.

Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe’s favorite Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho that they read together in Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey is highlighted on Jane Greensmith’s blog Reading, Writing, Playing in a great post on The Gothic Novel.

Shameless self promotion here, but Maria Grazia has interviewed moi for her lovely blog Fly High. Leave a comment and enter a chance to win your choice of selected Austenesque books. Ends 25 April, 2010.

Another interview of note is of Vera Nazarian, author of Mansfield Park and Mummies at Jane Austen’s World.

Vote for your favorite Pride and Prejudice book cover from my top ten favorites. As of today, there is a dead tie between White’s Publishings lovely new release showing a graphic rep of Regency dancers from the waist down and the classic cover design by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 peacock edition of P&P.

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont blog posts info on Soethby’s The English Country House auction results. Oh my. Beautiful Regency-era items, but the prices Lousia!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane invented baseball since she mentioned it in her novel Northanger Abbey. Doubtful? Read further proof in the third installment of posts by Mags at AustenBlog.

Entertainment:

British actor Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen 2009) opens in The Scottish Play in London next week. Read about the lore and superstition behind the Shakespeare play that we dare not mention.

The Jane Austen Story opened at Winchester Cathedral on 10 April, 2010. Read more about this new exhibit spotlighting Jane Austen’s burial place and life in Hampshire that will run until 20 September 2010.

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has always been a lively affair and this year one of the guest speakers is author/editor Susannah Carson of the Austen anthology A Truth Universally Acknowledged that we reviewed and enjoyed. Jane Austen Today has a featured article on the the LA  festival which makes me homesick for outdoor book fairs that I frequented while I lived in California. *sigh*

New Austenesque Book Announcements:

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly — 16 Sep 2010

Book Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

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