The Evolution of Jane

The Evolution of Jane

4.5 4
by Cathleen Schine
     
 

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From the bestselling author of The Love Letter, comes a playful and evocative exploration of the nature of friendship

"Classy, intelligent fun." --People

Six hundred miles off the Ecuadoran mainland, just south of the equator, the Galápagos Islands are home to diverse species of exotic wildlife--and tourists of every stripe and feather. It

Overview

From the bestselling author of The Love Letter, comes a playful and evocative exploration of the nature of friendship

"Classy, intelligent fun." --People

Six hundred miles off the Ecuadoran mainland, just south of the equator, the Galápagos Islands are home to diverse species of exotic wildlife--and tourists of every stripe and feather. It is here that Jane Barlow Schwartz embarks on a quest as urgent as Charles Darwin's one hundred and fifty years before: to find out why her childhood friendship with her cousin and soul-mate Martha ended; and what unknown event, family feud, or unintended slight caused the happiest part of her life to become extinct. Along the way, amid blue-footed boobies, red-lipped batfish, and various species mating, squabbling, separating, and coming together again, Jane ponders the origin of her own colorful and peculiar heritage, a secret history of natural selection, and the flawed and fascinating evolutionary process that makes us all who we are.

Praise for The Evolution of Jane

"A tour de force . . . witty. Consistently amusing and provocative . . . a great pleasure to read."--The New York Times

"We should rejoice in a rare novel like The Evolution of Jane. A beautifully descriptive travelogue of the Galápagos . . . wrapped around a rollicking family saga tinged with hints of sexual intrigue. Three cheers."--Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review

"Hilariously rendered. In her smart, funny, and moving book, Schine weaves a tight bond between natural processes and human love, and reveals to us the spiritual metamorphosis that is life itself."--San Diego Union-Tribune

Editorial Reviews

Mademoiselle
Childhood memories, anger, curiosity, and love resurface as Jane spends the rest of her trip — and Schine, the rest of this clever novel — contemplating evolution, wildlife and the mysteries of friendship. Equal parts fascinating science lesson and love story.
New Yorker
'First Martha and I were one, now we were two,' Jane Barlow Schwartz, Schine's wry narrator, woefully tells us. For Jane, the loss of her cousin and childhood best friend was far more troubling than her later divorce from a badly chosen husband. When she and Martha are unexpectedly reunited on a cruise around the Galapagos Islands, Jane struggles to identify the 'splitting event' that drove them apart, and in the process she uncovers a welter of family secrets and on-board antics. The intricacies of Darwinian evolution and natural history provide excellent fodder for Schine's comic sensibility, but her inquiry into girlhood friendship never quite attains the introspective power afforded by its premise.
Elle
Deftly embroidered with a cast of oddball characters whom even Darwin would have considered one of a kind, Schine's novel is both playful and smart.
Richard Eder
Very funny, very smart...In The Evolution of Jane, thinking heals the heart or at least foritifies it as it heals itself. -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
Jill Smolowe
. . .[B]oth a humorous meditation on friendship and a clever send-up of the hypereducated class. . . .idiosyncratic characters; memorably wry and intelligent observations; brisk, witty writing. —People
Schine has written several successful, comically affectionate investigations into the human heart. This is not one of them.
Jane is on a nature tour of the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin developed his theory of evolution, to "recover" from her divorce­even though, she states unequivocally, the divorce was far less stressful to her psyche than the memory of being inexplicably rejected by her cousin and best friend, Martha, in high school.
When Martha turns up as the tour guide on Jane's trip, Jane becomes obsessed with trying to find an explanation for the breach of friendship, ultimately turning to Darwin's evolutionary theories. Schine gets points for effort, but unfortunately the results are ridiculous.
"And so, as I mulled over the problem of species, I recognized that there existed between the origins of life and Martha Barlow an important link: the confusion experienced by Jane Barlow Schwartz. This link was extremely suggestive. It seemed to promise some related solution. If A = (?) and B = (?), then all one has to prove is (?). It was obvious. The mechanism that explained the transmutation of species would explain Martha's transmutation, the transmutation of friendship."
Puh-lease.
Read Schine's last novel, The Love Letter, instead.
­Nan Goldberg
Library Journal
A best friend is a terrible thing to lose, especially in Schine's quirky world. Twenty-four-year-old Jane Barlow Schwartz is widely consoled when her husband walks out after six months of marriage, but she is more bereft about the end of her relationship with distant cousin and best friend Martha Barlow years earlier. A diverting trip to the Galapagos Islands for longtime Darwin fan Jane -- who's long wondered about how to distinguish a species -- only ratchets up her vexations, for the tour guide is none other than Martha. Schine plays it all like a fine instrument: Jane's musings about evolution and friendship, the Jane-Martha interaction and the whispered-about Barlow family feud, the camaraderie among the disparate tour members, and descriptions of the islands and their flora and fauna. Thought-provoking and amusing, this is a literary treat. -- Michele Leber, Fairfax County Public Library, Virginia
Jill Smolowe
. . .[B]oth a humorous meditation on friendship and a clever send-up of the hypereducated class. . . .idiosyncratic characters; memorably wry and intelligent observations; brisk, witty writing. -- People
Barbara Kingsolver
. . .[A] reverse allegory in which the large, real-world principles of natural selection and speciation are used to shet light ont he small particualars of a character's life. . . .the writing is fine and the plot gambols along enjoyable to its conclusion. . . .Cathleen Schine. . .makes chaos theory and speciation sound like fun. -- New York Times Book Review
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
. . .Ms. Schine very nearly pulls off a tour de force in which friendship comes to stand for the possibility of transcending natural selection. . . .But a degree of strain becomes evident when events are made to illustrate the novel's ideas. . . .The Evolution of Jane remains a great pleasure to read. -- The New York Times
The New Yorker
'First Martha and I were one, now we were two,' Jane Barlow Schwartz, Schine's wry narrator, woefully tells us. For Jane, the loss of her cousin and childhood best friend was far more troubling than her later divorce from a badly chosen husband. When she and Martha are unexpectedly reunited on a cruise around the Galapagos Islands, Jane struggles to identify the 'splitting event' that drove them apart, and in the process she uncovers a welter of family secrets and on-board antics. The intricacies of Darwinian evolution and natural history provide excellent fodder for Schine's comic sensibility, but her inquiry into girlhood friendship never quite attains the introspective power afforded by its premise.
Kirkus Reviews
Schine's fifth novel (after the bestselling The Love Letter) again focuses on quiet revelations and the slow process of discovering what matters—as, here, a meek young woman on the rebound from a disastrous marriage escapes to the Galapagos Islands, only to run into her best friend from childhood. While a Galapagos tour might seem an unlikely choice for a woman in distress, Jane doesn't think twice when her mother suggests she go to forget her troubles. She outfits herself for every contingency—except one, which she encounters immediately on arrival: her long-lost cousin Martha, now her tour group's guide. As Martha shows them the natural marvels that set Darwin thinking along evolutionary lines, Jane ponders the evolution of her own life after the abrupt, unexplained exit of her cousin, who'd been her next-door neighbor and closest friend into adolescence. Not willing to broach the subject to Martha, but convinced that the traumatic separation was somehow her fault, Jane speculates endlessly as to the cause, and so relives a tortured family history complete with living in a town named for her ancestor, a mysterious feud that left her parents refusing to speak to Martha's parents, and an earthy great-aunt who in her declining years came to live with the family—and who later accidentally set fire to their house. Struggle as she might to stay focused on the trip at hand, Jane alternates her musings on speciation with these blasts from the past, and when a mild flirtation with a tour member seems threatened by Martha, she has an emotional, and physical, meltdown. Eventually, however, she realizes she doesn't have to blame herself for long-ago breach—and withthat insight comes new information about the family's darker secrets. In spite of genteel trappings and an exotic locale, which serves as little more than a painted backdrop: a penetrating, smooth, and often clever portrait of a woman finding herself.

From the Publisher
"Crackles with energy, wit and laughter . . . Schine is a great speculator in the commodities of life, a life-scientist hypothesizing madly. She's written a novel that makes feeling good feel like a good thing." Boston Globe

"Schine renders her story with such deftness and humor that the reader can't help but be enchanted . . . A delightful exercise in literary wit, a perfect summer screwball comedy." The New York Times

"A sensual treat . . . Light as a souffle, rich as a sundae, and as satisfying as love." The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Letter perfect . . . An affair to remember, a book you won't forget. Grade: A." Entertainment Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452281202
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/01/1999
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.63(d)

Read an Excerpt

THE EVOLUTION OF JANE
by Cathleen Schine

 

INTRODUCTION

National bestseller and critically acclaimed novelist, Cathleen Schine is a writer more closely akin to Jane Austen or George Eliot than to her contemporaries. Her comedic parodies—novels of social peril in the modern age—are witty and madcap, cerebral and introspective. She is an author who never discredits her reader's knowledge of literature, offering bits of prose poems, medieval limericks, and whole subplots of eighteenth century tracts as insider's jokes and to enhance the telling of her own story. All the while, Schine entices her audience to read deeper into her protagonists who live their lives acutely attuned to their own literary finds, mirroring the experience we have when we read Cathleen Schine. As Margaret Nathan becomes engrossed in her newfound novel of seduction, "Rameau's Niece," we become engrossed in our own Rameau's Niece. Schine's comedies of manners, set in familiar neighborhoods and peopled with instantly recognizable characters, reflect our own lives with wit and sympathy.

About the Books

The Evolution of Jane
The Love Letter
Rameau's Niece
To the Birdhouse
Alice in Bed

The Evolution of Jane

Blending the romance of travel with memories of childhood, the national-bestseller The Evolution of Jane draws on unusual material from the literary realm—evolutionary history—while retaining the trademark slapstick and biting wit of a Cathleen Schine novel. In its setting, the novel marks a departure from Schine's traditionally urban environments, taking the characters to the remote Galapagos Islands six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador. On that island made famous by Darwin's observations of curious species, Schine chooses to observe her favorite curious species, the human one, and one of its most puzzling habits—friendship.

 

ABOUT CATHLEEN SCHINE

Cathleen Schine was born in 1953 in Connecticut, where she grew up reading an eclectic mix of literature. At Sarah Lawrence College, she tried to write poetry, but was distracted by a growing interest in medieval literature, which drew her to Barnard College in Manhattan, where she could comb the extensive library stacks of both Barnard and Columbia University. Here, her range of reading narrowed almost exclusively to thirteenth century illuminated manuscripts, all written in Latin. In her sophomore year, Schine was diagnosed with colitis, a painful intestinal disease. Prescribed steroids soon led to a secondary ailment—painful inflammation and gradual disintegration of her hips. Schine underwent hip surgery at the young age of twenty.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH CATHLEEN SCHINE

The protagonists in your novels all have profound relationships with literature. How did your relationship with literature begin? Who are your favorite novelists?

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Meet the Author

CATHLEEN SCHINE is the author of many novels, most recently The Three Weissmanns of Westport, as well as the internationally best-selling The Love Letter and Alice in Bed, To the Bird House, She Is Me, and The New Yorkers.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York, and Venice, California
Date of Birth:
1953
Place of Birth:
Bridgeport, Connecticut
Education:
B.A., Barnard College, 1976
Website:
http://www.cathleenschine.com/

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The Evolution of Jane 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book. The author creatively weaved the story of Jane figuring out what happened between her and her friend and Darwin's evolution theories he developed from the Galapagos Islands. The way Jane applies Darwin to her life was very amusing. Her shipmates are hilarious. This book really made me want to read other books by this author, even though I have never heard of her before. A must read for the intelligent woman who hasn't quite figured it all out yet!
sanken211 More than 1 year ago
Somewhat interesting and light read. Liked the Darwin stuff and learning about the Galapagos. Sometimes a little self-indulgent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago