Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

I'd like to start this review out with a little advice -- Don't claim you're paying homage to a great piece of literature in your modern telling if you're not going to stay true to the classic version of the story. Everyone will be comparing your book to the original story and when you deviate we will HATE it.

The Three Weissmann's of Westport focuses in on the lives of three women, a mother and her two adult daughters. The mom, Betty, has recently been uprooted from her home and is going through a divorce. Her two adult daughters, Annie and Miranda, decide to give up their own homes to live with their mom as she goes through the divorce in order to support her. This is the start of Schine's homage to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. It's a well-known classic so you can probably imagine most of the plot from there yourself -- until Schine ruins it in the end.

Without the connection to Austen, this book is pretty good, but you can't read it without comparing it and that where the trouble sets in. Firstly, her daughters are just too old. Austen's girls are still young and most of that book has them struggling to figure out who they are as they grow into womanhood and face real life. Annie and Miranda have already sunk shoulder-deep into real life so you miss out on a huge element of their characters. It's not quite believable that women nearing their 50's would hold a lot of naivete in their characters.

Then, we get to the end of the book so let me just say SPOILER ALERT here because I have to talk about it in order to adequately illustrate my frustrations. In the end of S&S the eldest sister end up with the man she's been pining for through the whole book. She forgives him a secret engagement to another and lives happily in love. Annie (Schine's Elinor) does not forgive her real love and ultimately settles for sweet, older guy who has been hanging on the fringes of the story all along, working behind the scenes to help. This older guy sound familiar because he should -- he's the character who should have ended up with the second sister if Schine would have stuck to Austen's story. What happens to Miranda? She falls in love with a woman and finally realizes that she's gay.

So all the build up of a modernized Sense and Sensibility, all the familiar characters in one form or another come together and have you waiting for a specific ending, and then nothing. Why go to all the trouble to imitate another story just to write your own ending? I don't get it. Schine could have written this great novel about these three women, could have kept the story almost the same as it is and just left the allusion to a classic out of it. If I wasn't spending so much time comparing this book to the Austen I know I would have enjoyed it more.

It's hard to say whether this book is worth reading. If you're an Austen fan - I'd say NO! If you actually aren't familiar with S&S then this would make a good beach read for the summer. It just left me feeling angry and appreciating works in their original form all the more.

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