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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a Cathleen Schine heroine goes off in search of her origins, she's likely to travel farther than most--and bound to come up against more than the average obstacle. Jane Barlow Schwartz, for instance, heads not for her New England childhood home but for the consolations of the Galapagos Islands. "You're searching for your roots," her father quips. "On a dormant volcano?" And this is only one of the thousands of witticisms on offer in Cathleen Schine's novel of lost friendship, the perplexing power of the family feud, and more than one shipboard mystery. When Jane, 25 and a brand-new divorcée, arrives in Ecuador for her ecological tour, she instantly recognizes the guide as her relative and childhood best friend. Martha, the cousin in question, however, takes several beats longer--a clear signal that both still have some evolving to do. As Jane quickly reveals, Martha was the real grand passion in her life, and now she's determined to get to the bottom of her idol's disenchantment, not to mention explore the evolutionary value of friendship. Charles Darwin is definitely much in evidence in The Evolution of Jane, and Schine has some serious fun with Jane's confusion when it comes to species survival. But her fifth novel is also filled with some provocative, perfectly timed aperçus on natural, romantic, and most definitely familial selection. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A writer of witty comedies of manners, Schine (Rameau's Niece; The Love Letter) combines the intellectual curiosity of a philosopher with a lively sense of the absurd. Her latest comically misadventurous, existential inquiry is set in the Galapagos, and Darwin's Origin of Species serves as a framework for protagonist Jane Barlow Schwartz's search for identity. Newly divorced Jane arrives at the islands off Ecuador to find that the park ranger who will guide her group is her estranged cousin, Martha Barlow, her dearest friend when they were growing up in Barlow, Conn., the town named for their family's founders. Jane has been grieving for years because Martha suddenly ended their "twinship" without explanation. Suspecting that Martha's rejection may be tied to the mysterious family feud that the elder Barlows will not explain, Jane speculates about the ways Darwinian theory can be applied to human relationships. For Jane, the question of "the transmutation of friendship" takes on the urgency of a scientific quest, which she pursues in whimsical fashion, inadvertently getting herself into hilarious situations?especially when she thinks she is competing with Martha for the attentions of an attractive young man in her group, one of many vividly realized characters who, to Jane's eye, are colorful examples of species diversity. But Martha's essential difference from Jane, her confident, pragmatic and unimaginative personality, becomes clear to the reader before Jane gets a clue. Cleverly, Schine follows Jane's epiphany about friendship and self-knowledge with a truly surprising revelation about the Barlow family feud. The sophisticated narrative, sparkling with playful intelligence and resonating with poignant insights about the ways girls and women bond, is Schine's best novel yet. Agent, Neil Olson of Donadio & Ashworth. 75,000 first printing; author tour. (Oct.) FYI: A movie titled The Misadventures of Margaret, based on Rameau's Niece, will be released in the fall. The Love Letter is in production from DreamWorks.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Bookcassette; Mut edition (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567400876
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567400878
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,072,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cathleen Schine is the author of The New Yorkers and The Love Letter, among other novels. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Lauren E. Knopf on March 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Up to the penultimate chapter of the book, I was extremely enthusiastic about The Evolution of Jane. It is the first novel I've read by Schine, and I was impressed by the mixed voice of levity, sentimentality, and great human sensitivity. Most of all, lines and whole passages caused me to laugh out loud. A few of her tropes, however (her mother's catchword "Chaos," the pivotal pool tragedy, Darwin's "nature red in tooth and claw," and Jane's general whininess), began to chafe with repetition. Most disappointing was the ending. It came in a rush, without much reflection or discourse, an abrupt departure from the previous flow of the book, which at its best philosophized lightly and at its worst dwelled. The onset of Ecuadorean illness, which I will spare both past and future readers, was particularly sickening. The book, in my opinion, DE-volved from this episode on. Most irritating, however, was Martha. Martha's irritating-ness served a purpose up to Jane's epiphany about thier lost friendship, but after the epiphany Martha continued to be irritating - her aloof, intractable, affable yet grating indifference to one and all - and this made the novel and the heroine both... irritating. Yet, this is not intended to be a wholly negative review. I do recommend the book for anyone in the mood for a very engaging read that is nevertheless not sustainable.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading Ms Schine's novel and I'm interested in all the negative reader reviews. I found much of the story improbable but I was still fascinated with the evolution of Jane which was her realization that Martha had not seen events in their early life in the same way. The combination of Darwin's theories and life was interesting to me also but probably many readers just want a story line. I may suggest this book to my book club; I think it will be a good one to discuss.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "cr8tv" on October 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
My book group read this book and will meet next week to discuss it. I found it to be a welcomed break-away from a conventional novel. The balance of Non-fiction/fiction was superbly crafted. Ms Shine's wit and wisdom is both provocative and entertaining. Don't we all know a Jane somewhere? Or perhaps have a little of Jane's quirky narcisism lurking in ourselves that we cringe to acknowledge? I would venture that it's this dark truth, along with the risk-taking departure from conventional format, that readers find disturbing. But if you shake off preconception, it's a terrific read. Bravo!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alex Nichols on November 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
"The Evolution of Jane" is a novel that is at times brilliant, at times maddeningly pedestrian. The premise, of twentysomething Jane Schwartz's trip to the Galapogos after a divorce, is at once fascinating and flawed. While on the trip, Jane muses on her lost friendship with her cousin and soul mate,Martha, who just happens to be the tour guide on the trip through the Galapogos. The novel weaves back and forward between Jane and Martha's childhood in Connecticut, and their present trip together.
One of the problems with the novel is the narrator's voice. We are supposed to believe she and her cousin are currently in their mid-twenties, but I think their thoughts, behavior and values seem better aligned with characters twice that age.
Another problem is the character of Martha, who is vaguely drawn at best. Is she self-absorbed, elusive, narcissistic? We see so little of her, and yet the novel hinges on questions of her character. We are left to believe Jane's conclusion that Martha was not the friend Jane thought she was. But is this true? The ending was too vague for my taste.
The novel shines, though, when the author draw parallels between the evolution of the species and the evolution of families and individuals. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was inspired to hit the Natural History museum and to call my travel agent after reading about Jane's travels in the islands of Darwin's discoveries.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I was surprised by some of the negative reviews Cathleen Schine's new book had the misfortune to garner. I enjoyed _The Love Letter_ very much and found _The Evolution of Jane_ to be a further evolution of the author's skill and talent. Jane's parents treat her to a trip to the Galapagos islands after her divorce is finalized. Rather than escaping from one failed relationship she is faced with another--her best friend from childhood, Martha, picks Jane and her group up at the airport and announces that she will be their tour guide. Here, where the whole concept of evolution began, Jane faces a more difficult puzzle than why "a husky is not the same species as a wolf but is the same species as a Pekingese"--why her relationship with Martha ended. It goes into a complex discussion on the nature of friendship, whether it is necessary to the human species and if it is why did Martha forget her? Jane's whininess is amusing and any one who likes Darwin will like the description of the Galapagos. A more-than-enjoyable read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on March 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jane, the narrator and protagonist of this mildly diverting novel, is on the rebound from a failed marriage. She goes on an ecotour to the Galapagos Islands and is stunned to find that her distant cousin and best friend from childhood, Martha, is the guide. Martha abruptly broke of their friendship for no apparent reason and Jane has been stewing about it ever since. Was it something she said or did, or was it perhaps connected to a mysterious family feud that divided the branches of their family?

The chapters alternate between the tour of the Galapagos and Jane's childhood in Connecticut with frequent musings on Darwin's "Origins of Species" and much discussion of questions such as "what is a species?" and "how and where do species divert from one another on the evolutionary tree?"

The author keeps hinting about the secret that caused the rift between Martha and Jane and provides some possible explanations - but by the time they come forth, I had stopped caring very much.

The problem with this book, which ultimately bored me more than it amused me, was that the characters don't come into sufficient focus for the reader to get very invested in them or care about what happens to them. Jane is a bit of a whiner but not tremendously interesting and Martha never really established herself as a character at all. The other people in the book are a collection of names with attributes -- but do not really live.

This book could have gone for comedy or for an intellectual puzzle but in the end tries for both and succeeds at neither.
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