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Posts Tagged ‘Pride and Pejudice and Zombies’

First, I had a cold. Now, I fear I might catch Austen-itus, a strain of  the virulent Austenmania, which is rampant in bookstores everywhere these days. Here a Darcy, there a Pemberley, everywhere an Austen wannabe. That “Clean-up on Aisle 2” must be yet another victim of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I’m not an Austen purist. Far from it.  I adore Clueless, the clever movie adaptation of Emma.  I swoon for Colin Firth, both in the miniseries and Bridget Jones’ Diary. I think the mash-up P&P&Z is hilarious, and am looking forward to the prequel, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, which drops next week.

But I couldn’t bring myself to read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters because the cover showed poor Colonel Brandon looking like Bill Nighy/Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean.  I also have grown weary/leary of all the Austen faux sequels, in which major and minor characters from Austen get new lives. Some of them might as well be zombies, they’re so lifeless and dull. Jane herself is a vampire in Jane Bites Back, and really, who can blame her?

Still, because Austen only wrote six books, and I can only reread them so many times, I find myself looking for books written with her kind of wit and style. For as Mr. Bennet once said, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

It’s Cathleen Schine’s turn in The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a contemporary comedy of manners a la Sense and Sensibility. If you’re familiar with Austen’s tale of the Dashwoods’ descent into genteel poverty and their troubles with reason and romance, you’ll appreciate Schine’s book all more. She parallels the plot and characters when it suits, but she’s smart and skilled enough to go her own way.

The three Weismanns — 75-year-old mother Betty and her middle-aged daughters, pragmatic librarian Annie and emotional literary agent Miranda — are engaging and endearing characters in their own right. Because Betty’s husband of nearly 50 tears has dumped her for his young assistant, Felicity, Betty is forced out of her Manhattan apartment to a shabby Westport cottage owned by wealthy Cousin Lou. She is joined by Miranda, disgraced and bankrupt by her “Awful Authors” who have been faking their memoirs, and by Annie, who rents out her New York apartment so the three have a little money. Both sisters have love affairs — Annie with the novelist brother of the duplicitous Felicity, and Miranda with a handsome young actor with a cute toddler son. Difficulties ensue, some of them farcical. 

Schine is an artful satirist who lets the arrows fly. But her heroines know fear and doubt. At one point, Annie, in Palm Beach at Christmas (the equivalent of Austen’s Bath during the season) wonders if this is “real life.”

“Sometimes her life struck her as a mistake, not in a big, violent way, but as a simple error, as if she had thought she was supposed to bear left at an intersection when she should have taken a sharp left, and had drifted slowly, gradually, into the wrong town, the wrong state, the wrong country; as if she returned to a book she was reading after staring out the window at the rain, but someone had turned the page.”

Schine’s on the right page, whether or not she borrows a few from Austen.

Open Book: I bought my copy of The Three Weissmanns of Westport (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). If you like it, try Paula Marantz Cohen’s Jane Austen in Scarsdale, Or Love, Death and the SATs (St. Martin’s, 2007)), a lively updating of Persuasion. I bought it, too.

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