Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine
292 pages
Published February 2010 by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Source: bought this one for my mom for Christmas last year

If you are one of the three Weissman women, life has suddenly taken a dramatic left turn. When Betty's husband of fifty years, Joseph, announces that he wants a divorce, she suddenly finds herself needing a place to live. When her cousin Lou suggests he come stay in a cottage he owns in Westport, daughter Miranda (going through a professional crisis that has her funds all tied up, perhaps never to be seen again) suggests that she and her sister Anne also move into the cottage. Anne, a single mother, who is a librarian, balks at the idea but, as she always has, she eventually agrees. It's only for a short while, after all, until Joseph either comes to his senses and comes back to Betty or agrees to let her leave in the apartment. Besides, Anne knows that between them, Miranda and Betty will never be able to manage financially. Even with her constant admonitions, the pair have a hard time understanding that a new suit or a new kayak are not in their new budget.

When Miranda takes that new kayak out for the first time, she suddenly finds herself flipped upside down and in danger of being pulled out into the Atlantic. That is until she is rescued by the oh so very handsome Kit Maybank. Miranda is soon smitten, not just with Kit but also with his young son, Henry. Miranda's always one to fall fast and hard but this time Anne senses that Henry is the one Miranda is most in love with.

Anne, in the meantime, is spending all of her daydreams on author Frederick Barrows, a man she has had a brief fling with. A man who still seems to be interested but also a man who has made almost not attempt to contact Anne for the longest time. It seems that his grown children are not wild about the idea of his spending time with a librarian.

Betty is going through all of the phases of grief. Yes, grief. Betty insists that she is a widow despite that fact that she is spending a tremendous amount of time with lawyers trying to get the settlement her husband has promised her will be "very generous" but which he doesn't seem to be producing. To top it all off, Betty soon discovers that Joseph didn't just wake up one day and decide he was tired of being married to her. There's another woman who, as it turns out, is also Frederick Barrow's sister.

Throw in a parade of characters who congregate at Cousin Lou's house, including his annoying wife Rosalyn, and friend Roberts and you've got the makings for conflict, humor and misunderstanding.

Taking Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and dropping it squarely onto the East Coast of the United States, Schine does a fine job of re-imagining Austen's characters and story lines while making changes that make the story her own. Fan of Austen's novel will enjoy comparing the two works throughout the novel and watching the stories blend then go off their own ways. Here there is no half-brother taking the family home away from the Dashwoods; there is always the hope that Betty will be able to return to her own home. The daughters are older, and, theoretically, able to make their own way in live without the help of a good marriage. But that doesn't stop all three of the Weissmanns from hoping for a happily ever after that includes a good man.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, certainly owing, in no small part, to the fact that I love Austen's book. But I also relished Schine's observations about relationships.
"Over the years, Betty began to forget that she liked Joseph. The large breakfast seemed grotesque, the drink obsessive, the light super an affectation. This happened in their third decade together and lasted until their fourth. Then, Betty noticed, Joseph's routines somehow began to take on a comforting rhythm, like the heartbeat of a mother to a newborn baby. Betty was once again content, in love, even."
Come on, those of you who have been married this long, you have to admit that you've had thoughts like this yourself. The "oh my god, I'm stuck with this for the rest of my life" moments when you're not sure you can take it any longer.

Schine's central characters a well-rounded and the reader learns just enough about the supporting cast to make them interesting but not so much that it bogs down the plot. Perhaps my favorite parts of this book were not the ways in which it was like Austen's novel, but in the ways in which it took off on it's own. The Omaha Bookworms will be reading this one in December and I can't wait to discuss it with them and to see how the opinions might vary between those who have read both The Three Weissmanns of Westport and Sense and Sensibility and those who have only read this one. I'll keep you posted on how that discussion goes!

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