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The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel [Hardcover]

Cathleen Schine
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 2010
Jane Austen’s beloved Sense and Sensibility has moved to Westport, Connecticut, in this enchanting modern-day homage to the classic novel
 
When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy eight years old and she was seventy-five . . . He said the words “Irreconcilable differences,” and saw real confusion in his wife’s eyes.
 
“Irreconcilable differences?” she said. “Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”
 
Thus begins The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a sparkling contemporary adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from the always winning Cathleen Schine, who has already been crowned “a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen” by People’s Leah Rozen.
 
In Schine’s story, sisters Miranda, an impulsive but successful literary agent, and Annie, a pragmatic library director, quite unexpectedly find themselves the middle-aged products of a broken home. Dumped by her husband of nearly fifty years and then exiled from their elegant New York apartment by his mistress, Betty is forced to move to a small, run-down Westport, Connecticut, beach cottage. Joining her are Miranda and Annie, who dutifully comes along to keep an eye on her capricious mother and sister. As the sisters mingle with the suburban aristocracy, love starts to blossom for both of them, and they find themselves struggling with the dueling demands of reason and romance.

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Review

“And off races the sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious and deeply affecting new novel by Cathleen Schine, her best yet, The Three Weissmanns of Westport . . . Schine’s homage [to Jane Austen] has it all: stinging social satire, mordant wit, delicate charm, lilting language and cosseting materialistic detail . . . Schine is clearly a writer who loves to read as much as she loves to write. And it is great fun to play English major with her.” —Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review

“Schine has been favored in so many ways by the muse of comedy . . . The Three Weissmanns of Westport is full of invention, wit, and wisdom that can bear comparison to Austen’s own.” —The New York Review of Books

“Schine’s real wit playfully probes the lies, self-deceptions, and honorable hearts of her characters.” —The New Yorker

“Schine sets the Austen machinery in perfect forward motion, and then works some lovely modern changes, keeping the pace going at a lively clip . . . Spotting the similarities and differences between the early 19th century and early 21st century stories is good sport, but the greater pleasure comes from Schine’s own clever girls and their awkward attempts to find happiness.” —The Boston Globe

“Swap genteel nineteenth-century England for upscale contemporary Connecticut, add two sisters—one impulsive, one practical—and stir with lively doses of romance, domestic discord, sudden setbacks, and sublime surprises, and you get Cathleen Schine’s homage to Jane Austen.” —Elle

“No Cathleen Schine book is without wit and sharply observed moments.” —The Wall Street Journal

"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." —Publishers Weekly

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great.... May 4 2010
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It must be a tricky thing for an author to do a take-off on another, much-beloved author's work. In this case, Cathleen Schine is trying to rewrite Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" in modern terms. As a Jane Austen fan, and a prolific reader of modern fiction writers, in my opinion, the only modern writer I'VE read who wrote comedy of manners with as much nuance as Austen is the late, great Laurie Colwin. Oh, and sometimes, Elinor Lipman achieves Austen-like writing.

But Cathleen Schine probably shouldn't have tried to echo Austen. Her book, "The Three Weissmans of Westport" is a good read. Not a great read, but a good read. The characters are interesting and the plot's fine, BUT Schine boxes herself into a corner by having to make the characters and plot echo - in loose terms - Austen's.
The minute a writer tries to take-off another writer she opens herself up to justifiable criticism.

The surprising thing about Schine's book was its front page review on the NYT's Sunday Book Section. Normally this spot is reserved for an "important" book. Something usually deadly dull, but "important" all the same. Schine's book does not deserve this spot and I think almost places her in a position where anything less than perfection is disappointing to the reader, who's expecting more from the book.

Anyway, the book's a good read. Almost better to wait for the trade-paper edition, though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing... Feb. 26 2011
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I was very disappointed in this book. I found the plot to be very predictable, the characters under-developed, the pacing was slow, and the dialogue mundane. I don't understand this constant comparison between Jane Austen and Cathleen Schine. Austen writes with such charm, appeal and an attractiveness. Her words flow along like a maple leaf rippling over the water on a stream.

I'm just left shaking my head, puffing out my lips that I'm finally finished and thinking it was even more difficult to read, in part, due to my yawning! Sorry, in good conscience, I just could not give this one a good review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book April 3 2011
Format:Paperback
Comparisons to Austen aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Found the characters compelling and memorable, and the humour delicious. It's the kind of book you gobble up and are sorry when there's no more left.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.1 out of 5 stars  155 reviews
144 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Starting Over Feb. 13 2010
By C. Hutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Catherine Schine has written a funny and on-target tale of three women starting over in their lives. Rarely in fiction is one of the heroines a 75 year old woman who is being dumped by her husband of five decades. The title refers to Mrs. Weissmann and her two daughters, forced to live together because of various dire financial circumstances. Ms. Schine examines the foibles of love and of relationships between men and women in middle age and the senior years (the 1987 movie "Moonstruck" comes to mind). It is refreshing to read of romance late in life, especially in a novel as well-written as this one.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific read! Feb. 15 2010
By Book lover -Philadelphia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a terrific read! Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down until I finished. The author sets up her situation very quickly and draws readers in with fine characterizations, unpredictable plot turns and excellent insights. She also does a wonderful job with setting the scene - whether it is in New York City, a Westport beach cottage or Palm Springs. Her writing is subtle and accessible, without unnecessary flourishes or affectation.

All in all, whether you do or don't want to compare the book to Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" [as the very positive front-page review in The New York Times Book Review did], this is a book that you'll enjoy and tell your friends to read.
65 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nancy Meyer's Next Film Feb. 20 2010
By karen Levine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a fun read. It is hardly updated Jane Austen. Like past reviewers, I was quite surprised to see it reviewed on the front page of the Book Review of the New York Times. It is contemporary, easy to relate to, especially if you live in Manhattan and are of a certain age. I must admit at times I felt it was just a step up from chick lit and just a fun escape book. Visually, I could see Nancy Meyer casting it, setting her usual beautiul scenery, decorating the Wesport homes, Manhattan apartment of Betty and Josie or even collaborating with Nora Ephron and writing a really witty script.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Charming on Its Own Merits; Delicious Austen Update Feb. 24 2010
By Diane B. Wilkes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Janeite, I have noticed that there are two kinds of Austen fans--those who despise the spin-offs/sequels/as-inspired-bys and those who write them. Well, not quite. But I still feel like a bit of an oddity because I like some but find most really plebeian and some truly offensive.

What I love about THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT is that you can read and enjoy its wit, charm, and humor without making any Jane Austen parallels whatsoever--yet, if you're a JA fan, you note each one with admiration and a frisson of recognition.

The story isn't the oldest one in the world, but it is certainly a familiar one in 2010--a man trades in his wife of many years for one much younger, in part as an attempt to stave off mortality. When Joseph Weissman leaves Betty, his wife of almost 50 years, she goes through a panoply of responses to the loss. His step-daughters (whom he considers his daughters) are equally emotionally savaged, even though both are well into adulthood. When the three wounded Weissmanns move into a Westport "cottage" together, they do so primarily for financial reasons. Yet they discover that the move allows them to move forward into entirely different (and for the most part, more positive) lives.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away--or the parallels to SENSE AND SENSIBILITY that are perfectly modernized. The Marianne and Eleanor roles are inhabited by people we've known or observed in today's world, yet true to Austen's vision of the sense/sensibility sisters. Betty is cannier and more central to the novel than the original Mrs. Dashwood, though just as improvident financially. The narrator/author is a wise, observant and entertaining observer of a rather large bit of ivory. Of course no one can compare to Jane Austen--the thought of such a thing is too ludicrous to countenance. But this is a worthwhile novel for Austen fans and modern fiction fans alike.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As addictive as fine wine or delicious chocolate, don't pick it up unless you're got the time to keep reading Feb. 26 2011
By Kcorn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Once I began this one, I absolutely could not put it down. The author starts off with a bang as she reveals that Joseph is leaving his wife, Betty Weissman, after a long and seemingly happy marriage (from the wife's current perspective). Betty is 75 and so you can imagine her shock, especially since she is also left in dire financial straits.

I was intrigued and baffled about why anyone would decide to end a marriage so late in life. Yes, there is another woman (no spoilers here, that info comes early on), a woman who is scheming and completely opposite from her name (Felicity). Even so, seemed shocking that she could compete with Joseph's wife, a woman who comes across as zany, fun, and far more appealing than Felicity. From my viewpoint, this made Joseph come off as somewhat dense, with no insight into Felicity's clearly manipulative moves.

Anyway, after the marriage ends, Betty departs for Westport with her two daughters, having the good fortune to have a relative who provides her with a cottage. While the thought of a cottage at first seems romantic and attractive to Betty, the structure turns out to be in need of serious repair.

This one definitely came across as a comedy of manners, making it clear why it has been compared to the works of Jane Austen. However, it definitely has a modern spin. Each character is illuminated in detail and I found Betty's daughters to be as intriguing as Betty herself. One daughter, Miranda, is a literary agent who trusted her instincts when it came to choosing authors - but, as it turns out, many of those authors made up their memoirs. Miranda lands on Oprah to defend herself (I couldn't help thinking of the whole mess involving James Frey, his book (A Million Little Pieces) and how he also appeared on Oprah with Nan Talese, trying to defend his own fictionalized memoir. In Miranda's case, however, she has several writers who have made up their memoirs. She is being sued. Her accounts have been frozen. This makes it very "convenient" (also known as having few other choices) for her to move in with her mother. She is even happy about the whole thing.

But the other daughter, Annie, is far less open to the whole idea. She loves her mother, though, so she goes along with it. This is when things take a stronger Jane Austin turn. Sure, there have been similar updates on the whole Austin genre or style but this one stands out. Even when I thought things were going to take a predictable spin, I'd be surprised. Events truly ramp up as the book reaches its conclusion. This is not a simplistic book, although I found it moved along at a rapid pace, but with the details that kept it from being too bland. It is the kind of book that begs to be read with a box of chocolates or fine cup of coffee or tea nearby. A glass of wine and comfy shawl or blanket would be the ideal additions for settling down for a nice afternoon of reading. But be forewarned- you won't want to come up for air, make dinner, or do anything but keep reading. So order takeout or have another family member handle the chores for the day. This one is definitely worth the time!

And yes...I ordered more of this writers' books. Reading this was like discovering a new friend, one who opened new worlds for me.
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