Thursday, May 6, 2010

Those Three Weissmans of Westport

I had mentioned in an earlier post that I was ready to read something funny and that the snarky humor of Cathleen Schine was right up my alley. Well, I finished this book last week and I have to say, though there were many laugh out loud moments, it was still a very poignant and spot on novel of truths about human beings and their inability to see the forest for the trees. I enjoyed it while I was listening, the reader was excellent, and I've been mulling it over ever since.

When Joseph tells his wife of fifty years that he wants to end their marriage on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences," she initially reacts with humor and patience. Hear the New York accent - "what - after 50 years - you can't live with me? snap out of it!" It's not until Betty finds out that the irreconcilable difference has a name - Felicity - that she rounds on him with all the fury of a woman scorned.

Banished from her lovely apartment in the city, Betty relies on the kindness of Uncle Lou, a prototype of the Jewish uncle who's never met a stranger, he takes in strays like a kid. Lou sets Betty up in his ramshackle cottage in Westport while Betty waits for Joseph to come to his senses. She is soon joined by her two grown daughters, Miranda, whose business as an editor is in financial trouble because she backed an author whose ripped from the headlines biography was fabricated - sound familiar? and Annie, a librarian whose sense of duty compels her to sublet her condo in the city and join her mother and sister in exile.

While in Westport, Miranda takes up with a younger man and falls more in love with his son than with him. Annie suffers in silence as she tries to be the sensible one, keeping her mother and sister from spending as if they still had money while nursing a crush on the distant novelist who spoke at a library function and happens to be the brother of the despised Felicity. Uncle Lou, surrounded by hangers on, tries to jolly Betty out of the doldrums while she pretends to be a widow as it's more palatable to her ego than to admit her husband has dumped her.

Reviewers have compared this little gem to a modern version of Sense and Sensibility and the reader does get that feeling of watching from above as Schine's characters make all the wrong moves while the right ones seem so obvious to us as outsiders. The joy of an Austen read-a-like is that you can be assured that the denouement will be satisfying and there's certainly little enough of that in the world lately!

I started listening to Chris Bohjalian's latest novel, The Secrets of Eden, and it got me from the first sentence. I must be the only one who didn't love Skeletons at the Feast so this new one feels more like his previous works of moral ambiguity. I'll keep you posted.
You may not hear from me for a while though because Barbara Hoffert just sent me a wonderful looking, big fat novel about Kenya circa 1960. As usual, there's a ten day turnaround to read it, write the review, mull my words over for a few days and then send it in to LJ. I read 100 pages last night without falling asleep. That bodes well.

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