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The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel Hardcover – February 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
A geriatric stepfather falls in love with a scheming woman half his age in Schine's Sense and Sensibility–flecked and compulsively readable follow-up to The New Yorkers. Betty Weissman is 75 when Joseph, her husband of nearly 50 years, announces he's divorcing her. Soon, Betty moves out of their grand Central Park West apartment and Joseph's conniving girlfriend, Felicity, moves in. Betty lands in a rundown Westport, Conn., beach cottage, but things quickly get more complicated when Betty's daughters run into their own problems. Literary agent Miranda is sued into bankruptcy after it's revealed that some of her authors made up their lurid memoirs, and Annie, drowning in debt, can no longer afford her apartment. Once they relocate to Westport, both girls fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of her stepfather's paramour, and Miranda with a younger actor who has a young son. An Austen-esque mischief hovers over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to survive and thrive. It's a smart crowd pleaser with lovably flawed leads and the best tearjerker finale you're likely to read this year. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
The seemingly endless parade of Jane Austen adaptations (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, anyone?) may tempt weary readers to give this book a pass. And, really, who can blame them? Perhaps an exception should be made, however, for The Three Weissmanns of Westport, which most critics hailed as a clever and warmhearted tale about love, life, and the true meaning of family. Schine's story captures the essence of Austen's classics, with pages filled with vibrant characters and insightful social commentary. Only the Wall Street Journal thought the novel too derivative. Both funny and sad, The Three Weissmans is the literary version of a delectable desert.
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Adding insult to injury, Betty is advised to leave her large apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the home she has occupied for years. Her two daughters, because of their dire financial situations, reluctantly agree to accompany their mother to a cottage in Westport, CT, provided to them by Uncle Lou who lives in a large house next door.
What could be more romantic than a cottage on the Long Island Sound in the wealthy community of Westport one wonders? Visions of enormous beach homes called "cottages" went through my head, as they did Betty's. Instead, this cottage sounds more like a small, unkempt outbuilding. With barely enough room to sleep and little living space, the trio moves in.
The characters in the book, including the ancillary players, are wonderfully vibrant. Betty, who redefines herself as a widow, spends much of her time watching daytime TV and falls victim to infomercials. While the divorce proceedings are in process, the Weissmann women have no expendable income, but that does not stop Betty. She buys, among other things, a portable gas fireplace, two flannel blankets with sleeves (the second is at half price, don't you know) and various gizmos that are familiar to anyone who watches daytime or late night television.
Annie, the elder daughter, is the only person with a job. Trying to keep the trio in line and on budget is like herding cats, but she considers herself to be the responsible one in the household. Her sister Miranda, a literary agent specializing in memoirs, finds herself in quite the pickle when it is revealed that her authors are frauds.
Annie, the introspective librarian, and Miranda, with her history of bad decisions, develop unconventional love interests. How they play out contributes to the quirkiness of the story.
The story moves at a reasonable pace, the characters are well developed and the dialogue is wonderful. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, character-driven tale.
Once I shake myself of Austen's ghost and immerse myself in Schine's novel, I begin to like it. I think part of my problem is that in Austen's setting, it was easy to accept wealthy, educated women who become destitute and come to rely on the kindness of strangers (or relative strangers). And even though I'm sure such things happen now, what with overextended credit lines and upside-down mortgages, one can't help but to be either frustrated by the dumbness of characters you want to be supportive of or simply not find them believable. Schine does come up with a fairly believable plot on how such genteel women can become poverty-stricken, albeit temporarily, but the characters seem almost implausible and one-sided. They lack the fullness and complications of real women. I know women who spend money like crazy even when they are broke, but they actually worry about it. They don't nonchalantly buy Tiffany earrings and not give it a thought. They may still actually buy it but they are wracked with guilt and worry because smart women know at some point, they will need money. The elder Weismann (Betty) and her free-spirited daughter, Miranda, become caricatures at certain times, as does steady, uncomplicated Annie who bears the burden of keeping the boat afloat for the rest of the family. They seem to be locked in their 18th century English character assignments, unable to move freely and exert their 20th century sensibilities.
Inspite their rigorous confines however, Schine manages to narrate a story that becomes endearing and entertaining. It is when Schine departs from the Austen plot lines that the story becomes engaging and energized. It is also the juxtaposition of Austen plot lines set against unlikely pairings - our heroines are older, Jewish, New Yorkers - that the novel comes to life. And ultimately, it is in Schine's acute portrayal of everyday, commonplace tragedies - a husband trading in his wife of 49 years for a newer model, a self-absorbed, brooding author sleeping with his young nubile house sitter, a rich elderly dowager swindled by a handsome con-artist - that I enjoy the novel the most. Heartbraking in places, irreverently funny in others, strikingly insightful all around, The Three Weissmans of Westport is a great summer read, just try not to prep for it by re-reading Jane Austen before you pick it up.