Three Weissmanns of Westport (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

lighter-touch-6

The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Cathleen Schine, 2010
292 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2011

In this delicious modern send-up of Sense and Sensibility, Cathleen Schine takes Jane Austen to heart. Not content to simply clone the plot, Schine, like her famous forerunner, turns a mordant eye on a self-regarding, self-absorbed society. The result is a sharp, funny, yet poignant story.

The novel opens in a posh West Side Manhattan apartment, where Joe Weissmann announces to Betty, wife of 40 years, that he's filing for divorce ... due to "irreconcilable differences." Betty's response? What do "irreconcilable differences" have to do with divorce? (Isn't that lovely?!)

 

When Joe tells her he wants "to be generous," she wonders if, like a maid, she'll be offered two months' salary. That would have been generous. Instead, under the influence of his churlish 30-something lover, Betty is banished, credit-cardless, to a tumble-down cottage in Connecticut. She spends the next year insisting on mourning her dead husband.

Accompanying her in exile are her two daughters—and the story is really theirs. Annie, sensible and bookish, works as a librarian in Manhattan, while Miranda, beautiful, driven, and temperamental finds herself in the midst of a professional calamity. A successful literary agent, Miranda has made her mark selling misery-memoirs to the big publishers for big money. But it turns out the memoirs are fabrications—and Miranda gets caught up in the scandal. It all makes for clever parody on our own fake memoirists—those who've found themsevles trapped in the headlights of a celebrity culture in over-drive.

The sisters fall in and out of love—paralleling Austen's original. But don't be fooled, as I was, into taking the novel for an identical replica of S&S: Schine puts her spin on an ending that comes as a surprise.

Three Weissmann's is a readable, beautifully written comic treat. Although I've classed it as "A Lighter Touch," it's not exactly "light weight." Schine offers wonderful insights into her characters and their longings. She also delivers terrific zingers about the world as she sees it. For fun, read Three Weissmanns in conjunction with Jane Austen's original.

See our Reading Guide for The Three Weissmans of Westport

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