Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ms Austen She Is Not

Continuing with my usual practice of picking up books recommended on Austenprose, I took The Three Weissmans of Westport out from the library when I came across it on the shelf.  I heard about it as a modern retelling of S&S - *not* chic lit - that got rave reviews, and did not bother to reserve it based on the dual signals of S&S and *not* chic lit, but when I saw it, I was like, well why not, rave reviews, huh? So out it came, and it was actually the first of all the (okay, not all that exciting) titles into which I ventured, due to its status as the only book with a hold on it (since, filled I think).  But before I even started it, Chava tried it, and informed me that she found it fairly unfun to read.  Now that was not a good sign, because to Chava, *not* chic lit doesn't spell doom in the same way it does to me.

Anyway, once I started, I was surprised by Chava's opinion.  Being an S&S retelling about two Jewish girls, there was a lot about it that reminded me of Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector.  That title was not a real retelling, just one that purported to be in the spirit of S&S.  It did have two sisters, one the practical one, one the dreamer, so I suppose that classification is not unwarranted.  Anyway, Chava loves Allegra Goodman, while I am not as much as a fan (if you want to know why read this).  So this book was about secular Jews, but still very Jewish Jews, and it was pretty much for women by women about women kind of fare, so I definitely felt the similarity.  But, at least initially, I found T3W (like that? :)) to be much lighter, much less literary and therefore much more fun.  Like, if not chic lit, then at least nothing with any pretensions beyond a desire to entertain.

That was in the beginning.  But as the S&S plot dictates, the story got more serious.   And as the plot thickened, the characters... whined.  I mean, I don't like Marianne even in the original.  But Eleanor's all right, and I have nothing against Mrs. Dashwood.  But here it was like, I don't know why anyone finds Miranda endearing, she is, as she styles herself, a nightmare.  And as for Annie, it's not like you have to be pathetic, secretly sorry for yourself, and kind of dull just because you're more practical than your sister is.  So, as S&S isn't exactly laugh-a-minute fun anyway, here we have a tense story with annoying people taking center stage.  And as for light... not a whole lot of fluffiness, and very little dark humor to lighten the mood either.  Meanwhile, the book got more and more, I don't know if you want to call if more philosophical, more pretentious, but more happy to make blanket statements about life and whatnot.  The one I was really unimpressed by was on page 118 - I remembered the page so I could refer to it later... but I now don't feel like getting the book out of my bag to cite it, so I guess you'll just have to go look it up yourself to satisfy your curiosity :) But anyway, the point was, instead of being a more light and funny take, it was this heavy handed adaption... with not much point, because it's not like any of the Weissmans are realistic and relatable or like their story is a common tale.

At one point, I was thinking, maybe it's my fault for getting this out - after all, S&S is my least favorite Jane Austen.  I haven't read it in a while, and my presumption has always been that I would develop more toleration for it rather than less, since that's been the general trend for me for a while.  But here's the thing - S&S was enjoyable reading even when I read it last in 12th grade - I just hated the ending.  The two romances are neither of them at all decent by my standards.  Eleanor and Edward know they love each other from the beginning, their obstacles are no source of decent angst, just annoying.  And as for Marianne... she doesn't even love Colonel Brandon at the end, and who cares about her anyway, she's an idiot.  But like I said, Jane Austen is Herself, and she keeps it light.  Not here.  It's almost blasphemous the way these whiny authors think they are carrying on the comic tradition on Jane Austen.  Or maybe they don't think so, they just like recycling her plots.  If that's the case, I have plenty of sympathy. Nothing I like more than a good modern retelling of P&P. But when they choose S&S, I suppose I have to be on my guard, at best...   I mean, it's simply not a plot I love (which won't stop me from watching From Prada to Nada, of course :)).  But here's the kicker - after a whole book of tense whining and depressed moments, we are finally supposed to end up with Eleanor and Edward, and Marianne and Colonel Brandon, right? Wrong, apparently.  She goes ahead and changes the ending! Why? I don't know, I don't think it really adds much thematic value.  Maybe she thinks her way is more realistic? I think it's mostly just for shock value.  But unfortunately, since I had pretty much lost interest in the book by that time,  I don't know if I cared enough to be really shocked.  More like disappointed.  Is nothing sacred? Okay, that was facetious, but seriously, this book was no good enough to merit its own ending.  And I am therefore demoting it from 2 to a

Verdict: 1.5/5

Sidenote: I looked back at the review on Austenprose, and it turns out she was not one of the rave reviewers - she thought pretty much the same thing I did, and she gave it 3/5, which is quite low for her. I really should read those reviews a little more carefully :)

No comments:

Post a Comment