Friday, June 15, 2012

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine




The Three Weissmanns of Westport
by Cathleen Schine
Picador, 2011
304 pages

Book Description:
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).

My thoughts:

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.

Book Club Reaction:

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.


My rating:



Bottom line:
If you're like me and crave literary, intelligent beach reads, then add this modern adaptation of Sense & Sensibility to your list.


26 comments:

  1. I'm so irritated by the premise (being dumped by a husband after 48 years) that I don't think I would want to read the book!

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    1. Rhapsodyinbooks - I have no sympathy at all for the husband! In fact, I was quite angry with him, but still enjoyed the book.

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  2. I read Sense and Sensibility several years ago, but it left no lasting impression on me. I'll admit, furthermore, that I very rarely enjoy modern retellings of classic novels. It seems like Cathleen Schine found a successful angle from which to tackle a familiar story, however it's not the type of book I'd ever really approach...

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    1. Biblio - This is the first modern adaptation I've enjoyed, but I also have high hopes for the Flight of Gemma Hardy.

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  3. I still have't read an Austen. What is wrong with me? I need to this year as I promised to do it last year, and it never happened. I tried... I tried to read P&P on my Kindle but it skipped several chapters when I downloaded it and I didn't notice until I was almost halfway done. I didn't want to start all over again.

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    1. Ti - Oh, I hope you give Austen another chance one of these days! I've read them all except Emma - which I've been saving for years because I don't want to 'run out' of Austen novels. Silly, huh?

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  4. I really do want to read this, even more because I just learned that my new favorite female narrator Hillary Huber narrates this audio.

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    1. Sandy - Now why don't I recognize Hillary Huber's name? I've got to check and see if I've listened to her.... and if I haven't, must rectify soon.

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  5. This sounds like something I would really like -- although I have to admit upon reading the title I thought it was going to be a Christmas title :). My immediate thought was "Book Club," but your club's reaction has me a bit worried about that. Maybe I'll just take this one to the beach myself!

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    1. Col - I can't think of a better title to take to the beach. Still scratching my head over book club's reaction...

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  6. I enjoyed reading the reasons why you were drawn to this story. I love a smartly written book and this one of course has that Austen feel to it! I will have to get my hands on a copy this summer for sure!

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    1. Staci - There is definitely a lot to enjoy with this book! Hope you can get to it this summer.

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  7. S&S isn't my favorite Austen. Of the 2 I've read it's my least favorite so far, but I did like the movie! This looks well done. Made even more cool that you are fmiliar with the place, love when that happens.

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    1. Stacy - S&S isn't my favorite Austen either (it's got be at least third or fourth), but I still enjoyed this novel.

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  8. This one has been on my "wishlist" for quite a while and I'm not sure why I haven't gotten around to it. Your wonderful review makes me determined to read it soon. Your book club's reaction surprises me too.

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    1. Kaye - We usually pick lighter books in the summer, so the reaction did surprise me. Thinking about it more, I realized that members with no exposure to S&S liked it less than those who could appreciate Schine's cleverness with the plot.

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  9. I thought this was a fun book too :) glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. Marie - My oldest daughter just started reading it today. She's an Austen fan, too.

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  10. "intelligent beach read" is the perfect way to describe this one - I enjoyed it very much too. I have a few of the author's other books and I look forward to reading them.

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    1. Booksnyc - I'll have to start looking around for other titles by this author, too!

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  11. I've enjoyed many of Cathleen Schine's books...I'm so glad you liked this one! (I read it in print, but I also have it on my Ipod, and now I'm looking forward to an intelligent beach listen soon. I had clients in Westport in the late 80s, in my first job in advertising, and it was always fun to go there. I loved Hay Day, and window shopping along the main street (wasn't there a bookstore in a pink house, or am I making that up?)

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    1. Audrey - I don't recall a bookstore in a pink house, but it's entirely possible I missed it.... most of my memories center on the small movie theater, quaint shops, and wonderful little restaurants near the coast. Guess I didn't buy quite so many books in those days!

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  12. An intelligent, literary beach read based on Jane Austen? I'm in! Thanks for putting the word out on this one. :)

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  13. Diana - There's definitely a lot to enjoy in this book! I'm still surprised by my book club's reaction...

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  14. I'm surprised that you're club found this one too light for a book club selection - there is so much to talk about in this one. It's definitely one that reads better, I think, if you do have some knowledge of Sense and Sensibility and my book club enjoyed talking about how the two were similar and different.

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    1. Lisa - The more I think about it, those of us that really liked the book had some background knowledge of Sense and Sensibility. The majority really weren't familiar with it and when comparisons were offered, the discussion didn't go anywhere.

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