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Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan Hardcover – May 1, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A looming bat mitzvah and a mother who believes she's the reincarnation of Shakespeare's Dark Lady cause no end of trouble for the suburban heroine of this corny but hilarious second novel by Cohen (Jane Austen in Boca). Carla Goodman of Cherry Hill, N.J., is saddled with a 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who seems to be in "a perpetual state of PMS," a 10-year-old son, Jeffrey, who is "on his way to becoming a fifth-grade delinquent," and a gastroenterologist husband who is having trouble maintaining a private practice ("It's one thing to look up butts and get rich.... It's another to do it for nickel and dimes"). At the same time, Carla's widowed mother, Jessie, starts making references to mead and doublets, apparently remembering her former life as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets. Cohen, who is developing a sparkling reputation for bringing the classics into contemporary fiction, paints in broad strokes but hits the mark with this domestic comedy. When Carla turns to renowned psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Samuels, famous for his bestselling How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love My Mother-in-Law, for advice, the humor escalates. Anyone-Jewish or not-who has ever attended a bat or bar mitzvah will find Cohen's take on the preparations and planning for this rite of passage spot on. By the end of this thoroughly entertaining romp, the author convincingly resolves all of Carla's family dilemmas with large doses of humor and heart.
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Review

“Though Cohen's knack for gentle satire earns some terrific laughs, this buoyant novel's power stems from the author's deep sympathy for her conventional characters. She mocks, yes, but from a place of tremendous understanding.” ―Newsday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312324987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312324988
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,234,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely delightful book. The plot is engaging, and the writing is elegant. Ms Cohen truly has a way with words, and the book is loaded with expertly crafted turns of phrase. The writing is Austen-esque, with its superb portrayals of the minutiae of daily life and its detailed look at the comedy of manners that is the life of its characters. The humor is engaging, drawing snorts of laughter and of recognition as situations arise that are, at least by analogy, part of my own life.
This books deals impeccably and elegantly with several themes of the human comedy. These include: the rite of passage into adulthood that is the bar (or bat) mitzvah (fabulous portrayal of a twelve-year-old girl here), several rites of passage for adults, including maturing into true adulthood, mid-life crises, and coping with aging parents, and the rite of passage that is aging itself (we should all be as lucky as Jessie!).
This is a wonderful book, and a worthy second novel (not a sequel) to the glorious Jane Austen in Boca, Ms Cohen's first novel.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Ms. Cohen's first book, Jane Austen in Boca, so much, that when I saw that she had published a second novel, I did a little dance in front of my computer. She writes the type of book in which kind, funny, intelligent people do their best to live honorable lives despite all the obstacles that the world (and often their families and friends) throw into their paths. The characters are vivid, their problems are universal. It's lovely, smart and beautifully written book.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel was a fun little romp, especially for those who have at least a basic understanding of Shakespeare's plays. I'm not sure the end of the Jessie Kaplan plot was well explained or reasoned out, it felt too sudden (I can't give more detail for risk of ruining the plot).

My main criticism is that Cohen, while desciribing the Bar/Bat Mitzvah culture of East Coast Jews (Midwest and south is a bit more reserved), missed an opportunity to make a sharper critique of the situation in which the ceremony is downplayed and the party is the main event. Certainly Cohen issued a critique of this culutre, but it is weak at best and with a bit more humor and even exaggeration she could have made a point more forcefully. The main charachter, Carla, seems downright uninterested in the ceremony, except for the speech, for most of the book.

Good poolside reading. YOu won't gain any deep insights into the human condition. I hope that Cohen wasn't trying for that, or she missed badly.
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Format: Paperback
Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan is a fun, quick, and funny read. The book is chock full of current cultural references that make the reader feel as though she's living in the world of the central characters. In the midst of planning her daughter's bat mitzvah, Carla Goodman's elderly mother, Jessie Kaplan, begins to speak and act strangely. She starts serving the family venison stew and uses obsolete vocabulary. Soon it comes out that Jessie believes she's the reincarnation of Shakespeare's love interest. The entire family thinks she's going senile; however, when Carla's English teacher, Hal, starts to press Jessie for details, he finds that her strange references are dead-on.

The plotlines that Cohen weaves together throughout this book are quirky and funny yet somehow still entirely believable. I really enjoyed the planning of Stephanie's bat mitzvah, which quickly gets out of hand (as such events often do).

I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, quick read. While it's not particularly deep, it's definitely entertaining.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After enjoying Paula Cohen's first novel, "Jane Austen in Boca," I looked forward to reading "Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan." I was not disappointed, although I think I prefer Cohen's first. The author's absolute strong point, as evinced in both novels, is her ability to develop elderly characters of richness, complexity, and sympathy. So perhaps it may be that Jane Austen in Boca, set in a retirement community, simply contained more of what Cohen does best.

Jessie Kaplan, both the character and the novel, is a delight. Cohen deftly weaves several plots - the delusions of a seventyish grandmother who believes in a former life she was Shakespeare's girlfriend and the prototype of Jessica in The Merchant of Venice; the impending bat mitzvah of her granddaughter, Stephanie Goodman; and the romance between her daughter Margot and Stephanie's English teacher, Hal Pearson. All these come to a delightful head, first in a remarkable trip to Venice, then at the mashed potatoes sundae station and on the dance floor of Stephanie's bat mitzvah party.

Cohen, an English professor, has a deft way of weaving quotes, anachronistic words, and metaphors into the context of grand bourgeois Jewish suburbia. Underlying the comic aspects of the novel are serious questions about family relationships, appearance and reality, and the role literature plays in real life. Cohen also does a good job of explaining the significance of the bar mitzvah ritual underneath the glitz and glitter. As Dr. Leonard Samuels, Cherry Hill's favorite psychiatrist observes, "...in the end, it's a sacred ceremony of initiation and a hell of a party. What's not to like?"

What indeed?
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