Friday, February 11, 2011
The Three Weissmans of Westport - another Austen-related giveaway!
Posted by JaneGS
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Three Weissmans of Westport, by Cathleen Schine. Picador Publishing offered me a review copy and a giveaway copy, so I said "sure"--I haven't read much Austen-related fiction in awhile and was starting to feel out of the mania, a situation that needed remedying!
I glanced at a couple of reviews that were lukewarm and so decided not to read them until I had read the book myself, so as not to taint my lily-white slate. Nevertheless, I admit to being slightly tainted. However, I found it very readable, original, and mostly fun.
The Three Weissmans of Westport is a modern-day adaptation of Austen's Sense and Sensibility. The three Weissmans are Betty Weissman and her middle-aged daughters, Annie (Elinor) and Miranda (Marianne). Betty's husband, and the daughters' stepfather, falls in love with his office assistant and tells Betty he wants a divorce. Betty is temporarily impoverished as the divorce proceeds, and the daughters move with their mother to a cottage in Westport made available to them by Cousin Lou (Sir John Middleton).
As with most modern versions of age-old stories, a large part of the fun is matching up who's who, and Shine is not at all subtle in this area. Her modern incarnations of the major players are essentially larger than life, borderline caricature characters, displaying the prominent attributes of Austen's people and translating major plot points to modern life. If this were all the book had going for it, it would have failed.
What saved The Three Weissmans was Schine's slick, funny writing that usually made me smile and occasionally made me laugh. The author bio at the front of the book says that Schine has contributed to The New Yorker, among other publications, and that's exactly what this book feels like--basically a book length version of a New Yorker story.
Just as one of the best scenes in S&S is when Fanny Dashwood talks John Dashwood down from helping his sisters to the extent his father requested on his deathbed to bestowing on them good advice from time to time, the best scene in this book is when Felicity Barrow (the gold-digger who broke up Betty and Joe Weissman's marriage) talks Joe down from splitting a lifetime of acquired assets with his ex-wife to letting her have the wedding presents that her parents gave them.
Just as in S&S, the Annie/Elinor character is the one I sympathize with the most and root for the most. As in most S&S stories, I think Schine overplays the emotional excesses of Marianne and misses the artistic nature and talent that drives the original Marianne and that ultimately makes her a sympathetic character. Schine's Miranda/Marianne is simply annoying.
I did like, however, that Schine didn't feel compelled to wrap everything up nice and tidy and in accordance with the S&S script. What worked for Elinor and Marianne with regards to their love lives doesn't necessarily work for Annie and Miranda, and that actually is a good thing. Adaptations are tricky things--the premise is the same as in the original, but when I read an adaptation I want the writer's take on the story, not just a retelling. The Three Weissmans is definitely Schine's and not Austen's take on the story of three women adrift in the world, dependent on the kindness of strangers who eventually become friends.
I think the novel works just fine even if you've never read S&S. In fact, because of the departures it takes from the storyline, it might just work better without that built-in barometer.
You know the drill. Leave a comment with your email address for an entry--tweet or Facebook the giveaway for extra entries (just let me know!). Once again, U.S. only (Picador's decision, not mine).
Contest ends on Tuesday, February 15 at 10 pm MT.