Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

This was the January selection at my book club. I enjoyed it, though not everyone else did. Elana thought there was too much “tell” and not enough “show” and I think Phyllis thought it was a bit lightweight, though she was too polite to say so. I, however, was happily entertained by it, though I don’t think either Elana or Phyllis are incorrect in their analyses.

The book is a retelling of Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, transferred to Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Westport, Connecticut, in the present day. Schine has transformed nearly every plot point and character into a modern version, some more successfully than others. For example, Marianne, from S&S, is a delightfully free spirit, romantic and impetuous. Her 21st century analog, Miranda, is a spoiled drama queen and not nearly as appealing as Marianne. Fanny, from S&S, who schemes to cheat Marianne and her mother and sister out of their rightful portions, is recreated as Felicity, a more fully developed character in Schine’s version, and more sympathetic too (though I confess, it’s been a long time since I read S&S). It’s fun to play the match-up game, though the book certainly works even if you don’t know the origin of the plot and the characters (as a few book club members sheepishly confessed).

I find Schine to be an erratic writer. Years ago I read Alice in Bed, her first book, and really liked it, but I’ve had more trouble with her later offerings. Sometimes she is sloppy and takes the easy way out (telling and not showing, for example). But sometimes she is really ironic and sharp-witted and I like that. I can’t decide if updating a classic like S&S is brave (oh, the challenge of writing as well as Ms. Austen!) or lazy (don’t have to waste time coming up with a plot!). Maybe it’s both.

(Book 3, 2011)


Lisa said...

One of my book club friends has been raving about this one for months. So I bought it for my mom for Christmas and she was just "meh" about it. I'm definitely going to have to read it for myself--particularly because Scine was brave enough to take on Ms. Austen.

Vintage Reading said...

I wasn't keen on this. Couldn't stand that spoiled Miranda. Marianne in S&S was only 17 so could be forgiven her excesses but Miranda was 50!! Way to ambitious to re-tell an Austen, but I would try another Schine. Thought she was good on marriage break-up.

Vintage Reading said...

Gah! Nothing worse than spotting spelling and grammatical errors in your comment and not being able to edit it - apologies!

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