The Three Weissmanns of Westport
by Cathleen Schine
Betty Weissmann has just been dumped by her husband of forty-eight years. Exiled from her elegant New York apartment by her husband’s mistress, she and her two middle-aged daughters, Miranda and Annie, regroup in a run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. In Schine’s playful and devoted homage to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the impulsive sister is Miranda, a literary agent entangled in a series of scandals, and the more pragmatic sister is Annie, a library director, who feels compelled to move in and watch over her capricious mother and sister. Schine’s witty, wonderful novel “is simply full of pleasure: the pleasure of reading, the pleasure of Austen, and the pleasure that the characters so rightly and humorously pursue….An absolute triumph” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer).
Modern adaptations of classic novels seem to be everywhere lately and The Three Weissmanns of Westport, inspired by Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, is one of the best I've come across. It's nearly as smart and witty as Jane herself, plus it's teeming with literary references.
I snapped it up (for only $1.50) at the library book sale last summer for two reasons. First and foremost, I love Jane Austen. Second, in the late 80's I lived near Westport, CT and was drawn to the setting. I was not disappointed on either account - Schine's novel would make Jane proud and it perfectly captures Westport, too. I nodded in recognition at traffic references on Old Post Road, the rapidly redeveloping beachfront, and the general description of Fairfield County's suburban lifestyle. I certainly got more than got my money's worth here!
The Three Weissmanns of Westport is the type of intelligent beach read I find myself craving each summer. Let me emphasize that the novel absolutely stands on it own. You do not need to be familiar with Sense and Sensibility in order to enjoy it.
However, I would recommend at least watching a movie adaptation (either before or after) to get a true sense of the novel's cleverness. It's been at least ten years since I read Sense and Sensibility, so recollected only the broadest plot details. I watched the old BBC adaptation a few days after finishing and it really added to my appreciation of what Schine has accomplished. It also made me want to reread Sense and Sensibility.
Ten of us met at a member's home for coffee and muffins last Friday morning. After catching up with life events - graduations, a wedding, and the birth of a grandchild - we moved to the patio overlooking the lake for our discussion.
Surprisingly everyone finished the book, but only four of us (myself included) really liked it. Most felt it was too 'light' for a book club selection. We discussed senior citizen divorce, divorce laws in general, family dynamics of grown children living with parents, similarities to Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen novels in general, and life in Westport and Fairfield County. Several members had issues with the ending- it wrapped up too quickly, they wished Betty had met with a different fate, and the resolution of Miranda's story seemed to come out of nowhere.
Our annul pot luck dinner with a discussion of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is scheduled for late July.
If you're like me and crave literary, intelligent beach reads, then add this modern adaptation of Sense & Sensibility to your list.