Inveterate, incurable readaholic, who blogs about books and what's in 'em. If readaholism is a deadly disease, no problem. Couldn't imagine a better way to go.
This was a library find that looked to be a fun read, so I grabbed it. The Three Weissmanns of Westport, author Cathleen Schine’s tribute to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, takes the story of a recently widowed mother and her young daughters being tossed out of their home in 18th-century England and fast forwards and morphs it into a 21st-century divorce, American-style.
Taken completely on its own The Three Weissmanns is a somewhat fun and witty look at the demise of a marriage and its ripple effects on the entire family. However, juxtaposed against Austen’s classic, two things struck me: 1) how far women’s lives have evolved in autonomy and independence, but 2) how little women’s emotional independence appears to have evolved in the same time period.
Certainly, the premise of this story is a tempting one – the wealthy husband of a long-married couple tosses his wife from their home and puts the financial screws on her after he falls in love with a younger woman. With her grown daughters also facing financial ruin, the three women accept a relative’s offer of a beach cottage, where they go to regroup and find new lives and loves amidst Westport high society. I really wanted to love this book, but in the end, I can only say I mildly liked it.
What resonated was the story of Betty and Joseph, an older couple that still like each other, but have grown apart. This is the story of many couples and what can happen, especially to the wife when she’s never worked. Though I wanted to brain him, I understood Joseph’s delusion that he could recapture his youth with a younger woman. I liked Betty’s plucky attitude – she is miserable, but determined to stay optimistic, even if she has to convince herself she’s a widow. Also authentic and poignant is the story of Joseph’s changed relationship with his daughters.
What I didn’t care for so much are daughters Annie and Miranda’s stories. Both are around 50 years old, and pretty much dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to love. Annie moons over author Frederick, who’s ruled by his adult children who hate Annie. And, Miranda falls for Kit, a young divorced actor with a child. Schine keeps the reader wondering about the two men’s intentions, but sometimes I felt she kept me wondering too much — so much so that I found neither love affair particularly exciting or interesting. Then, there is the elderly lawyer Roberts, who supposedly loves Miranda, but his story is so cagey and oddly developed, one really doesn’t know.
Additionally, I had some rather sizable beefs with parts of the storyline. First, there are a couple of pivotal chance encounters which bring out key information, but the encounters are downright implausible. They simply are beyond the bounds of belief, making me wonder how how an editor let them through. Secondly, Miranda’s story has a huge twist in the end which I simply do not buy, given she’s a woman of almost 50.
Still, another point in this book’s favor is the highlighting of the schizophrenia of women’s lives even 200 years after Jane Austen’s work. Schine’s work shows both how far women have come, and how much is still the same. Certainly, Annie and Miranda are independent women with careers of their own and the ability to chart their own course without men at the helm. This is heartening. What is sad is that their attitudes to love are pretty much stuck in the 18th-century, with both women mooning over men like lovesick cows and pretty much pinning their happiness on men. What is even sadder is that it’s true of most women today.
And then, there’s poor Betty – always a stay-at-home mom, and even though wealthy, Joseph is able to bring her to the brink of financial ruin unless she buckles under to his terms even in this day and age. These issues are still societal problems and Schine’s shining a light on them is important.
This was a very hard book for me to rate, but in the end, it was not nearly as promising as I had hoped.