Wednesday, April 20, 2011
REVIEW: The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine
The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a take-off of Jane Austen's classic Sense and Sensibility, about an impoverished family consisting of a mother and her daughters. In Austen, it's three daughters and here it's two, but that's just one of many little tweaks that author Cathleen Schine has made to the original. This being modern-day New York and not Regency-era England, the Weissmann family is impoverished not by sexist inheritance laws but by a useless husband who's left his wife of many years for a younger woman. Joseph and Betty Weissmann were a model married couple until Joseph falls for vampish Felicity; now Betty's been thrown aside and lives in a tiny cottage on the charity of her friends. Her two daughters, Miranda and Annie, move in with her and try to take of her, each other, and themselves.
Annie and Miranda, unlike Austen's Dashwood sisters, are grown-up career women with troubles professional and romantic of their own. Miranda, the impetuous Marianne stand-in, is a literary agent whose career is ruins and whose love life is non-existent; stolid Annie, standing in for Eleanor Dashwood, is a boring librarian with grown sons. They need their mother as much as she needs them, or so it seems. They each meet a man who may or may not be Mr. Right; Schine ticks off many of the plot points of Sense but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that this is no play-by-play repeat of the original. Rather, Schine adjusts the story for modern times in ways I found believable and fresh enough.
Although she does keep the broad outlines the same, the characters have enough of a life of their own to keep the story off balance. The love stories certainly don't work out the same way, and Miranda and Annie grow and change enough to make the book worthwhile. You don't need to have read Sense and Sensibility to enjoy The Three Weissmanns but having read it will make it easier to see where Schine departs from the original as well as the debt she owes it. This is a light beach read; unless you're really interested in seeing what someone does with a modern retelling of Austen (the reason I read it) it's not a book I'd pick for literary fiction readers looking for something light. I enjoyed the book well enough but I read it for a specific reason. Popular-fiction readers (Jodi Picoult, etc.) will probably find this right up their alley and enjoy it as a good summer read- which is what it is.
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.