The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel
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The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel

2.9 155
by Cathleen Schine
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Here are some of the things Cathleen Schine makes fun of in The Three Weissmanns of Westport, her sparkling homage to Sense and Sensibility: men trading in their old wives for newer models; divorce lawyers; author tours and readings; fallout from the rash of fraudulent memoirs; Westport, Connecticut; McMansions; infomercials and daytime television; pomposity; people who incessantly quote Shakespeare; and self-deluding notions of fairness and generosity.

Schine is a master of the modern domestic comedy. Her novels, distinguished by keen intelligence, sharp wit, and, more often than not, an underpinning in the classics, are light yet not without weight, effervescent yet tethered by solid thought and feeling. She's more intellectually inclined than Elinor Lipman but no less delightful. In Rameau's Niece (1993), she anchored a satire of academics, New York intelligentsia, and issues of confused sexuality with a pastiche of Diderot and an erotic 18th-century manuscript. In The Evolution of Jane(1998), set in the Galapagos, she applied Darwinian theory to transmutations in close female friendships. She Is Me (2003) refracts a story of three generations of women coping with love, illness, and grief through Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

And now, with her eighth novel, she goes directly for the mother ship, the oft-imitated but never equaled Jane Austen. Why? Because Jane Austen is irresistible. Because you write the book you want to read. Because why let Paula Marantz Cohen have all the fun with Jane Austen in Boca, her recasting of Pride and Prejudice with Florida widows, orJane Austen in Scarsdale, her transposition of Persuasion to college admissions in Westchester county?

So, another (at least nominally) Jewish twist on Austen. The alluringly alliterative The Three Weissmanns of Westport is actually Schine's second novel set in the wealthy coastal suburb; the pink bookstore of The Love Letter(1995) was based on her hometown's late lamented, aptly named Remarkable Book Shop.

Schine's new novel opens with Austenian directness. Instead of primogeniture, divorce is the disrupter that abruptly changes a family's -- and especially a woman's--circumstances. When Joseph Weissmann, 78, tells his wife of 48 years that he wants a divorce because of "irreconcilable differences," 75-year-old Betty says, "Irreconcilable differences? Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?" A bit more sparring, and we learn that "The name of Joe's irreconcilable difference was Felicity, although Betty referred to her, pretending she could not remember the correct name, sometimes as Pleurisy, more often as Duplicity."

When Joe says, "I want to be generous," Betty rightly takes umbrage. "Generous? she thought. It was as if she were the maid and was being fired. Would he offer her two months' salary?" She tells him, "You cannot be generous with what is mine." Schine clinches the exchange: "And the divorce, like horses in a muddy race, their sides frothing, was off and running."

And so, of course, is Schine's novel. Just as Sense and Sensibility's John Dashwood is convinced by his selfish wife to dislodge his stepmother and three stepsisters from Norland Park despite deathbed promises to his father that he would provide for them, Joseph Weissmann is convinced by his tough new paramour, Felicity, that the Weissmanns' large, gracious Central Park West apartment is rightly his and that he shouldn't burden Betty with its upkeep or the onerous taxes that would result from its sale.

With her credit cards canceled and no funds until the divorce is settled, Betty relies, like Austen's displaced Dashwoods, on the kindness of friends and relatives. She retreats, heartsick, to a rundown cottage on Westport's Compo Beach slated for teardown. Her two middle-aged daughters accompany her for solidarity. Their benefactor is Cousin Lou, a successful real estate developer -- but not an entirely successful character -- who's never forgotten his origins as a W.W.II refugee. Annie Weissmann is the practical member of the trio, the family worrier, a long divorced librarian with two grown sons. Forty-nine-year-old Miranda, too inconstant in her emotions to have ever married, is a literary agent wed, in a sense, to her demanding "Awful Authors." When it turns out that several of the memoirs she championed were fabricated -- "fake cheesy lurid tragedy" -- Miranda is vilified by the literary world and disgraced on Oprah.

Schine pokes fun at "sororal rage" and family dynamics revived from childhood as the three women cope with their new "genteel poverty" and meet potential suitors at magnanimous Cousin Lou's weekly dinner parties. Miranda spurns the steady, quiet, semi-retired lawyer -- Schine's stand-in for Austen's Colonel Brandon -- instead falling in love with several unlikely candidates, and in the process discovering her inner nanny. One thing the author holds sacred is maternity. She writes, "No wonder people had children, [Miranda] thought. A child replaced art and work and culture." When Annie's sons turn up to brighten an otherwise dismal Thanksgiving, "Annie was so happy she felt ill." But she registers sadness and resignation at the knowledge that, "though they would always be at the center of her life, she was no longer at the center of theirs."

The novel is filled with zingers and riffs you can't resist reading aloud -- lines like "He was an actor, so he never had any work." There are plenty of serious aperçus, as well. After being advised to hire a shark lawyer and a forensic accountant, Betty, newly taken during her "cottage arrest" with daytime television, observes, "A divorce was surely a kind of death: a murder, in fact. It was the memories, so stubbornly happy and lifeless and useless, stinking with decay, that lay in a putrid heap like a rotting corpse."

As with Austen, the anticipation -- even after multiple readings -- of the pieces falling neatly into place is enormously satisfying, somewhat akin to the progression toward the harmonious resolution of a Bach Invention. I don't recall ever shedding a tear when reading Sense and Sensibility, but I cried at the end of Schine's novel. It's not easy to be both funny and moving, and to write a conclusion that is both happy and sad. Schine pulls it off. This is a book I'll urge on friends.

--Heller McAlpin

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.)
Booklist
It may be hard to envision a novel of manners set in our ill-mannered times, but accomplished author Schine has captured the essence ofSense and Sensibility and dropped it into today's Manhattan and Westport. The Weissmanns, elderly mother and two mature daughters driven to penury by divorce and career reversals, must rely on the beneficence of Cousin Lou for the shabby roof over their heads. Annie, still modestly employed as a librarian, has both salary and an apartment to sublet, so it falls to her to provide the income for the three. Alas,the other two spend money as if it were still the old days. Mother Betty affects widowhood as it is easier than the pending divorce. Sister Miranda finds inappropriate love. The wide-ranging cast of characters--fools, scoundrels, poseurs, the good-hearted, and secret heroes--provides interesting interplay. Wild coincidences abound, so that Manhattan, Westport, and Palm Springs are but mere extensions of the classic drawing room. There is sadness but also love in this thoroughlyenjoyable, finely crafted modern novel.
—Danise Hoover
The New York Times Book Review
Schine gives her characters more than their fair share of luck, but she is also brave enough to let them wrestle with raw fear. Among its many gifts to the dearest sort of reader, a fully engaged one, 'The Three Weissmanns of Westport' offers the chance for a mediation on that snake of Emily Dickinson's as it slithers through the grass-the snake that sometimes startles and frightens us, so undefended and unprepared are we, caught in our 'tighter breathing, and zero at the bone.'
—Dominique Browning
Dominique Browning
…sparkling, crisp, clever, deft, hilarious and deeply affecting…her best yet…Schine's homage has it all: stinging social satire, mordant wit, delicate charm, lilting language and cosseting materialistic detail.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
Drawing on Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Schine (The New Yorkers) has written a witty update in which a late-life divorce exiles Betty Weissmann and her adult daughters, Annie and Miranda, from a luxurious life in New York to a shabby beach cottage in Westport, CT. Annie is the serious daughter and Miranda the drama queen. Both women find unexpected love, while Betty, a sweet, frivolous spendthrift, struggles with her newly impoverished state. What comfort the Weissmanns enjoy is owing to the generosity of Cousin Lou, a Holocaust survivor and real-estate mogul, whose goal in life is to rescue everyone, whether or not rescue is needed. While beautifully preserving the essence of the plot, Schine skillfully manages to parallel the original novel in clever 21st-century ways—the trip to London becomes a holiday in Palm Springs; the scoundrel Willoughby becomes a wannabe actor. VERDICT Austen lovers and those who enjoyed updates like Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale should appreciate this novel. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]—Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Kirkus Reviews
Already recognized for her own witty romantic comedies of manners, Schine (The New Yorkers, 2008, etc.) joins the onslaught of Austen imitators. Upper-middle-class, mostly Jewish New Yorkers take the place of British gentry in this Sense and Sensibility riff. After 48 years of marriage, 78-year-old Joseph Weissman leaves his 75-year-old wife Betty for Felicity Barrow, a younger woman with whom he works. Although Josie (as his stepdaughters call him) repeatedly swears he wants to be generous to Betty, Felicity manipulates him into closing Betty's credit-card accounts and forcing her out of the Weissmans' Upper West Side apartment she herself paid for decades ago. Fortunately, kindly Cousin Lou lends Betty his abandoned cottage in Westport, Conn., and Betty's daughters, outraged on their mother's behalf although they don't stop loving Josie, move in with her. Romantic, never married but often in love, 49-year-old Miranda is in dire financial straits herself, as scandals concerning the memoirists she represents threaten to bankrupt her literary agency. Sensible Annie, briefly married and long divorced, has successfully raised two sons while working at a privately endowed library. Now living in stoic loneliness, she has begun to fall in love with famous author Frederick Barrow, who happens to be Felicity's brother and whose grown offspring jealously guard his affections. In Westport, Annie is hurt when Frederick practically ignores her at a gathering at Cousin Lou's. Meanwhile, Miranda has an affair with the handsome young actor next door and falls seriously in love with his two-year-old son. Feisty Betty begins to refer to herself as a widow. In true Austen fashion, love and money conquerall, although Schine adds some modern sorrow and a slightly off-putting disdain for her male characters, who range from narcissistically foolish to, in what passes for the romantic hero, pragmatic and unoffending. Infectious fun, but the tweaked version never quite lives up to the original.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250106926
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
05/03/2016
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five. He announced his decision in the kitchen of their apartment on the tenth floor of a large, graceful Central Park West building built at the turn of the last century, the original white tiles of the kitchen still gleaming on the walls around them. Joseph, known as Joe to his colleagues at work but always called Joseph by his wife, 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?
In Joe’s case it had very little to do with divorce. In Joe’s case, as is so often the case, the reason for the divorce was a woman. But a woman was not, unsurprisingly, the reason he gave his wife.
Irreconcilable differences?
Betty was surprised. They had been married for forty-eight years. She was used to Joseph, and she was sure Joseph was used to her. But he would not be dissuaded. Their history was history to him.
Joseph had once been a handsome man. Even now, he was straight, unstooped; his bald head was somehow distinguished rather than lacking, as if men, important men, aspired to a smooth shining pate. His nose was narrow and protruded importantly. His eyes were also narrow and, as he aged, increasingly protected by folds of skin, as if they were secrets.Women liked him. Betty had certainly liked him, once. He was quiet and unobtrusive, requiring only a large breakfast before he went to work, a large glass of Scotch when he arrived home, and a small, light dinner at 7:30sharp.
Over the years, Betty began to forget that she liked Joseph. The large breakfast seemed grotesque, the drink obsessive, the light supper an affectation. This happened in their third decade together and lasted until their fourth. Then, Betty noticed, Joseph’s routines somehow began to take on a comforting rhythm, like the heartbeat of a mother to a newborn baby. Betty was once again content, in love, even. They traveled to Tuscany and stood in the Chianti hills watching the swallows and the swift clouds of slate-gray rain approaching. They took a boat through the fjords of Norway and another through the Galápagos Islands. They took a train through India from one palace to the next, imagining the vanished Raj and eating fragrant delicate curries. They did all these things together. And then, all these things stopped.
“Irreconcilable differences,” Joe said.
“Oh, Joseph. What does that have to do with divorce?”
“I want to be generous,” Joe said.
Generous? she thought. It was as if she were the maid and she was being fired.Would he offer her two months’ salary?
“You cannot be generous with what is mine,” she said.
And the divorce, like horses in a muddy race, their sides frothing,
was off and running.

Meet the Author


Cathleen Schine is the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, The Love Letter, and The New Yorkers, 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. She lives in Los Angeles.

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 Three Weissmanns of Westport 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 155 reviews.
Art-historian More than 1 year ago
I like Schine's writing and wanted to read this so much that I mistakenly bought it twice! Once turned out to be enough -- I never found the characters to be convincing enough for me to really care about them or believe that they were connected in any way beyond the plot contrivances. It absorbed me more at the beginning and at the ending, but the middle was a long lull at the beach.
BobbiNJ More than 1 year ago
This was the first of Cathleen Schine's books that I've read but I enjoyed it enough that I've purchased a few others of hers. The book takes place in CT and NY, both very familiar places to me. The character types are also familiar but because of that, I enjoyed it even more. Sharply drawn characters and detailed depiction of different types of women who all depend on each other. Loved her unique writing style. It struck me as a bit old-fashioned but because the book discussed very current themes, it made the whole experience even more enjoyable.
happyreaderKK More than 1 year ago
This book was made out to be much better than it actually was. It was not very real and I was tired about hearing about all of the rejection from men. Life is more about life than men and who cares if they reject you. There is so much more about life than evolving yourself around men. I wished I would not have wasted my time!!
MargeScope More than 1 year ago
A thoroughly enjoybale read that pulled me into the lives and travails of the characters instantly. Those quirky, charming, colorful and memorable characters. You care about them becasue they are so human and offbeat. I found that it was too short a story and would have loved to be with them a little longer. Perhaps the saga of the Weissmann women could go on and all the intersecting characters and subplots could as well. With flashbacks, of course. i have already recommended it to friends. And because I enjoyed it so much, I have become interested in reading more of author Cathleen Schine's work with which I was not familiar. I became interested enough to order this book after reading a review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I simply could not get into this book and only read about half of it. The plot idea was so intriguing, and I was really excited about reading it. I even went to the store to pick it up right away because I couldn't wait for shipping. Very disappointed with the characters. They were so silly and self-centered. Perhaps someday I will pick it up again, but cannot think of a good reason why when there are so many good books out there to read.
Cathleen Schine More than 1 year ago
loved the characters and was contantly surprised by the plot despite the Austin homage. A lovely intelligent novel about family relationships and the stages of romantic love.
baxter1946 More than 1 year ago
This is the wordiest book! This book is for people who delight in other people's suffering. It was very overwhelming in that so many things happened to the characters. Sometimes there was a smile, but most times it was a furrowed brow.
KrisPA More than 1 year ago
I absolutely hated this book. HATED. I kept hearing so many good things about it (reviews, not word of mouth) so when the library got a copy in, I decided to give it a shot. I hated it fairly early on. I forgot that it was based on Sense & Sensibility, one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, so when I recognized this fact (pretty early on--you are pretty much beat over the head with it plot/character similarities) I was annoyed. It was just so irritating to have this author subvert a gloriously written classic novel into her boring prose and annoying characters. Schine didn't just base this novel on S&S, she pretty much followed it to the extent that it was distracting--I began anticipating the plot and renaming the characters in my head (oh, yeah, this is so and so from S&S). While I love Jane Austen's characters, despite and because of their flaws, I found Schine's characters simply ineffectual, stupid, and annoying. I found absolutely nothing humorous in the book, and couldn't relate to the wealthy NYC Jewish-ness of the characters. I began skimming about 3/4 of the way thru because I found it too irritating to read every sentence. I didn't care about the ending and how anyone ended up. Awful, awful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading a number of wonderful reviews of this book, I could not wait to buy and read it. I even recommended it to my book group. Instead of a nuanced, classic read, I found this book to be flat and the characters, for the most part, uninteresting. I found that I mostly did not care about what happened to any of them in the end. My advice for would-be readers is to stick with Sense and Sensibility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Angst going through middle life change and expecting true love with a 75 year old mother going through a divorce where she doesnt have enough sense to get a lawyer is too much at no time does anyonee seem to id his mistress or care though adultery would be her cause why wouldnt the daughters get a lawyer right away and make husband leave why would daughter let her mother have credit card to buy chanel and on and on these women are unbelieveable stupid why would anyone refuse an appliance well drafty house bad weather poor nutrition did her in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't think I was going to like it at first but fell in love with the writing. Would really like a sequel to see how things turn out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book took place in connecticut where i live. it was also the first book that i read on my nook. put all these things together and you come up with a great story that can be related to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoying the book.
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Babette-dYveine More than 1 year ago
This is one of the worst books I have ever read. I only finished it because once I start a book I'm compelled to read it to the end. It is almost 300 pages of the characters' constant complaining -- "kvetching," I believe it is called. The plot is totally contrived, with the same characters popping up everywhere. If I could give it no stars, I would. Jane Austen? Cathleen Schine can't tie Jane Austen's shoelaces!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this story. The characters are endearing and a joy to read about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not meant to rival Jane Austen. Sense & Sensibility is only an inspiration. Read it instead for the humor and truth of the overarching situations of the mother's & sisters' lives & loves. I was genuinely charmed. This is Shine's best novel. Her others are only fair; this one is excellent -- more than a beach read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was mildly entertaining quick read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only finished because it was our book club read. Terrible characters, stupid story. Don't waste your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hfaerie More than 1 year ago
I really loved the shadow of "Sense and Sensibility" in the storyline of the book. Since S and S is my fav of the Austen books it was fun to anticipate how the story would turn to follow the original story line. It is certainly not the same story -but similar nonetheless. Fast easy read.