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Jane Austen in Boca
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Jane Austen in Boca

4.8 7
by Paula Marantz Cohen

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a nice Jewish widower must be in want of a wife.

Jane Austen centered her classic novels around "three or four families in a country village." So does Paula Marantz Cohen in this witty twist on Pride and Prejudice---except this time the "village" is Boca Raton, Florida.
Eligible men are scarce in Boca. When


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a nice Jewish widower must be in want of a wife.

Jane Austen centered her classic novels around "three or four families in a country village." So does Paula Marantz Cohen in this witty twist on Pride and Prejudice---except this time the "village" is Boca Raton, Florida.
Eligible men are scarce in Boca. When good-hearted meddler Carol Newman learns that the wealthy and personable Norman Grafstein has lost his wife, she resolves to marry him off to her lonely mother-in-law, May. Even May's sharp-tongued friend Flo approves of Norman---although Norman's best friend Stan, a cynical professor, keeps getting under Flo's skin.
Will May and Norman eventually find happiness? Will Flo succumb to the charms of the suavely cosmopolitan Mel Shirmer? Misunderstandings abound until love conquers both pride and prejudice in this perceptive, engaging comedy of manners.

Complications and misunderstandings abound in this romantic and perceptive comedy of manners.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Utterly charming...think Pride and Prejudice, but with better weather.” —Vanity Fair

“Page-turner of the week.... In this witty romp, widowed Jewish women and their extended kin fill in for the country families in Pride and Prejudice.... What's not to like?” —People

“Clever, warm-hearted...Cohen's wit is sharp, smart, and satirical, and her characterizations are vividly on target.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“I can't imagine a more perfect afternoon than sitting by a pool reading Jane Austen in Boca...Whether you're from Boca, Brooklyn, or Beverly Hills, be sure to make time to read this very funny book.” —Joan Rivers

Publishers Weekly
The Bennett daughters are recast as elderly Jewish widows in this amusing, kvetchy take on Pride and Prejudice. May Newman, a sweet, gentle woman in her 70s, is happily settled at the Boca Festa retirement community in Boca Raton, Fla., where she enjoys the companionship of her best friends, Lila Katz, a pragmatic redhead in search of a well-to-do husband, and Flo Kliman, a sharp-tongued retired librarian. May's pleasant daily routine is disrupted when her matchmaking New Jersey daughter-in-law visits and introduces May to recently widowed Norman Grafstein, a particularly eligible senior. Despite herself, May finds she enjoys Norman's company, but Flo takes an instant dislike to Norman's best friend, cranky English professor emeritus Stan Jacobs. The plot unfolds in ways predictable to those familiar with Pride and Prejudice (or any of its many adaptations), enhanced by Cohen's near-sociological scrutiny of life in Boca Raton. Cohen (whose mother-in-law lives in Boca) has a sharp eye for details like its residents' favorite colors (pink, turquoise and gold), preferred shopping destination (Loehmann's) and favorite movie (Schindler's List). The Austen parallels are cleverly drawn and culminate in a class on Pride and Prejudice offered by Stan, who discovers that the Boca Festa women identify with the meddling Mrs. Bennett rather than heroine Elizabeth. The humor may be of the Borscht Belt variety ("she would find May Newman a husband or plotz"), but it will be thoroughly appreciated by the snowbird set. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A clever update of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this first novel is set in a Jewish retirement community in Boca Raton, FL. Carol Newman is obsessively seeking a mate for her widowed mother-in-law, May. When Carol decides that the recently bereaved and very wealthy Norman Grafstein is the ideal candidate, the resulting comedy of manners is worthy of Austen herself. The author's perceptive observations of life among the retirees of Florida are combined with skillful parallels to the plot and characters of the original novel. The narrative flows, and the reader will be chuckling, trying to guess who from Boca is a character from Austen. Particularly delightful is Flo Kliman, the contemporary Elizabeth Bennett character, a retired librarian from the University of Chicago with a keen intellect and acerbic wit. Although certain aspects of the plot seem contrived, this fiction debut by humanities professor Cohen, who has written scholarly studies such as Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth, will amuse readers everywhere. Recommended for public libraries, especially those with significant Jewish communities.-Andrea Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The title says it all. Cohen, a humanities professor and author of several books of scholarly nonfiction, offers a kosher teacake of a first novel loosely fashioned after Pride and Prejudice and elucidating the social mores of genteel Jewish retirees in Boca Raton.

Cohen’s Boca are the condominium complexes full of retirees primarily from the Northeast. Best friends May Newman, Flo Kliman, and Lila Katz are widows in their 70s living quietly in Boca Festa, a typical Boca complex, not as shabby as some nor as grand as the most exclusive. Then Carol Newman, a contemporary suburban yenta cum Emma, sets up her placid, passive mother-in-law May with Norman Grafstein, a wealthy retiree, while financially strapped Lila encourages the attentions she receives from the crudely foolish but relatively well-off Hy Marcus. That leaves Flo, a former librarian at the University of Chicago, who claims to be uninterested in romance. Sophisticated, acerbic Flo is soon sparring with Norman’s friend Stan Jacobs, the recently widowed, somewhat dour English professor at the local university who is too overtly critical of the Boca lifestyle for Flo’s taste, though she’s not above mocking the foibles of her fellow residents herself. Enter Mel Shirmer, a divorced former journalist, too charming by half, who woos Flo while he considers buying a condo. The transparent plot, a follow-the-numbers exercise in Austen-copying, concerns the ups and downs of the widows’ romances. To say all ends happily gives nothing away. The story works best as social commentary—who knew, for instance, that Jews of a certain generation were Anglophiles who chose British last names like Howard and Irving as first names for their sons?The British and New Jersey accents here sometimes collide, but the Boca community is certainly Austenian in its rituals, rules of etiquette, and daily rites, such as shopping (Loehmann’s), home decorating (lots of turquoise), and entertaining (lots of food).

A silly trifle but clever and fun.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Marantz Cohen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312290888

Mrs. Grafstein is dead!"

"Uh-huh." Alan Newman nodded without raising his head from the stock market page.

"Hel-lo!" Carol Newman leaned toward her husband, her face, like a small, high-intensity lamp, positioned above the top of his paper. "Can I have your attention, please?"

He looked up.

"Listen to this-" Carol cleared her throat and read aloud crisply from her section of The Star Ledger: "'Norman Grafstein, former owner of Grafstein Leather Imports, will be honored for his generous gift to the South Orange Beautification Committee in memory of his late wife, Marilyn. Grafstein, formerly of South Orange, now resides in Boca Raton, Florida. His son, Mark, of Scotch Plains will be present at the committee breakfast to receive the plaque in his father's honor.'" Carol put the paper down and looked meaningfully across at her husband.

"So?" Alan responded.

"Did you know Norman Grafstein had lost his wife?"

"How would I know? I haven't seen Mark since our last high-school reunion."

Carol sighed. "Honey, don't you get it?" She tapped a long, mauve fingernail on the table between them. "Norman Grafstein. Boca Raton. Your mother."

"Carol, please ..."

"Alan-" Her voice took the sharper tone generally reserved for their seven-year-old. "Do you want your mother to be loved,to be happy, to have someone to take her to dinner? Why don't you exert yourself? Call up Mark Grafstein, tell him you're sorry about his mother"-she gave her hand a wave to suggest the routine preliminaries that would need to take place-"and tell him your mother's in Boca. Arrange a meeting with his father."

"Carol, my mother doesn't want to meet anyone. She's fine the way she is. Leave her alone."

"She's not fine," countered Carol. "She's miserable."

"She's fine."

"She's miserable."

Alan began to feel dizzy.

"You want her to be miserable"-Carol picked up a magazine and began to thumb through it-"let her be miserable."

Alan shifted uneasily in his chair, anticipating defeat. It was possible to be irritated by Carol, but it was hard to oppose her for long. The fact was that she had a big heart-literally (the result of twice-a-week classes in high-impact aerobics at the JCC) and figuratively. Carol not only felt for the plight of others, she saw it as her mission to set things right for them. Last year, she helped the homeless in their town by organizing crisis career workshops and a low-fat soup kitchen in the library annex. The year before that, she raised math scores by 60 percent in the district by taking charge of the after-school homework program (even poor Jimmy Hahn, said to be ineducable, buckled down so as not to have her fingernail poked in his shoulder one more time). Carol was not one to sit idly by in the face of adversity, human weakness, and error. She was constantly striving to improve the lives of those around her, whether they liked it or not.

Alan vaguely understood that Carol carried a great weight of responsibility on her small shoulders. It fell to her to sustain that network of human relations called civilization-at least as it existed in the northern New Jersey suburbs. She was forever sending her friends to her hairdresser, passing the word about a new caterer, and arranging large family gatherings that involved hunting down estranged cousins and convincing them to let go of the grudge they'd been holding for thirty years and attend. She had been committee chair of last year's most successful event at their synagogue-an interfaith hootenanny in which Methodists, Baptists, and Jews, all wearing yarmulkes, crowded inside the cavernous blond-wood sanctuary, whose astronomical cost her herculean fund-raising efforts had helped pay for.

You could take one of two tacks upon finding yourself married to someone like Carol. You could resist and be caught in a debilitating struggle that you could not win. Or you could succumb and discover the pleasures of being managed by an expert.

Alan Newman, an accountant by profession, was a philosophical man. Life was hard. Life was short. He saw no point in swimming against the tide of this powerful and well-meaning force that was his wife. And so he succumbed and was, as far as such things are possible, happy.

May Newman, widowed for almost two years, had been living undisturbed in her Florida condominium until the day the previous spring when her son and daughter-in-law, arriving earlier than expected, had found her in her kitchenette in a housecoat. Alan had seen nothing noteworthy in this, but Carol insisted that it could only mean one thing: His mother was lonely and depressed.

"Any woman wearing a housecoat at two in the afternoon is depressed," she declared. "And why shouldn't she be?" she added when Alan attempted to argue on behalf of the comforts of a housecoat. "It would be more surprising, given the circumstances, if she weren't!"

From then on, May's case had been a theme in the Newman household to be picked up and examined at those odd intervals of the day or night when Carol found herself with nothing else to do.

"Your mother needs to move in with us," Carol announced one night, just after Alan had fallen into the deathlike slumber that preceded his six A.M. wake-up to catch the early commuter train into the city.

"Wuh?" mumbled Alan groggily. He had been enjoying a dream of skiing down a mountain in Aspen.

"Your mother. It's our duty to take her in."

"Fine," he said, rolling over to continue the downward run, the wind whipping at his face. He was in no mood to put up even the semblance of a fight.

But the next day, when Carol broached the idea with her mother-in-law, she was surprised to find opposition from this quarter.

"No, dear," said May, "I'd rather stay where I am."

"But Mom, you'd be happier with us. You'd get to see the children all the time."

"I'm not sure the children would want to see me as much as that," demurred May gently. And though Carol cajoled and bullied, May would not budge.

This left Carol with a definite challenge. If her mother-in-law were nearby, she could drag her to senior functions, sign her up for art appreciation classes, and take her on as an assistant to her own numerous charitable and community activities. But directing May's social life from a distance of a thousand miles was another story. It required more elaborate intervention.

"Did you see the announcement about the senior bagels-and-lox brunch at the Reform temple?" Carol asked her mother-in-law over the phone as she ran her eye over the Sun-Sentinel spread out on the kitchen table (she had the paper expressed up so as to keep abreast for May's benefit). "Go! You never know who you'll meet."

May always said she would check things out-it was easier to say yes to Carol than to say no-but she rarely followed through on her promises. When her daughter-in-law called for a report, she always had an excuse: an attack of dyspepsia, a heavy rain, a made-for-TV movie that she wanted to watch. For someone like Carol, used to having her initiatives stick, May's mild-mannered but unwavering refusal to cooperate was frustrating to say the least.

"We need to go down," Carol announced one day to her husband soon after the newspaper had drawn her attention to a widowed Norman Grafstein. "We need to visit your mother and get things moving."

"We were just there in December, and we'll go again in June," said Alan wearily, for he detected the fateful note of determination in his wife's voice. "You know I can't take off again until tax season is over."

"June is too far away," pronounced Carol. "This is the plan"-for, of course, she had one. "I'll go down with the kids next week; you can meet us for a long weekend. I've already reserved the tickets. But you'll have to call Mark Grafstein before we go. Tell him we'll stop in on his father, to pay our respects, when you arrive."

Alan knew it would all be done.

May Newman sat in her kitchenette with Lila Katz and Flo Kliman, fellow residents of the Boca Festa retirement club. Boca Festa was one of many clubs in Boca Raton, Florida, former scrubland developed in the early 1970s as a haven for modest-to-well-to-do retirees. The population was mostly Jewish (though with a definite sprinkling of Italians) and mostly from the tri-state metropolitan area (though with a vocal minority from Chicago, Cleveland, and Montreal).

Boca Festa was built on a plan that resembled the other clubs in the area. It was set on a large expanse of manicured grounds with a Tara-like clubhouse at the center and an Olympic-size pool alongside. The surrounding complex was divided into three "estates," each reflecting a superficially different (but structurally similar) architectural style. Each estate was in turn divided into ten "pods," and each pod into fifty condominium units. At the center of each pod was a small pod-pool and pod-clubhouse.

The entire complex was thus parsed and organized like a collapsible set of mirrors-a mix of the quasifuturistic and the quasihistorical. The estate names-Fairways, Eastgate, and Crestview-suggested the stylish manor houses featured on popular 1980s TV series like Dynasty. May lived in pod 3 in the Crestview Estate; Lila and Flo in pod 9, Eastgate.

It was to her daughter-in-law that May owed her company. Lila's niece was a friend of a member of Carol's coffee group, and when the coincidence of the women's mutual residence had been unearthed, a meeting had been inevitable. Lila and Flo were neighbors in their pod and had known each other for several years.

"So what are we doing tonight?" asked Lila as the three women sipped their Sankas at May's kitchen table.

"Why do we have to do anything?" countered Flo.

"We have to do something. It's Saturday night!"

"Oh my God!" cried Flo. "Saturday night and I don't have a date!"

"At our age it's important to get out and mix," said Lila impatiently. "Otherwise, they say, you lose interest in life."

"Don't worry; I haven't lost my will to live."

"You joke, but it's not funny."

"Okay," said Flo, relenting as she always did after teasing Lila. "I'll tell you what we'll do: I'll rent a Clark Gable movie and make some popcorn. You can both come over and watch."

"Sitting home and watching television is not my idea of Saturday-night entertainment," declared Lila. "I like human company."

"Clark Gable is better than human company."

"Well, you can stay home," said Lila huffily. "I'm going to go out. May, will you join me? The JCC has a talk by one of those guru doctors on lowering your blood pressure through stress management. They say it will be very well attended."

"Well ..." said May. "I was feeling a little tired-"

"May wants to watch Clark Gable," interrupted Flo. "He does more for stress management than a guru doctor."

"Flo, mind your own business. Just because you have no interest in meeting anyone doesn't mean you have to influence May."

"I'm not influencing May."

"You are!"

"Please," interceded May. "I wouldn't mind going to hear the guru doctor with you, Lila, only I'm feeling a little tired. Flo isn't influencing me. I do like Clark Gable."

"All right," said Lila, sighing. "I like Clark Gable, too. We'll watch the movie tonight, but you have to promise to do something tomorrow, even if it's only going to the clubhouse to hear Pinkus Lotman on parking violations in the pods. If we don't do things, we might as well be dead."

"Agreed," said Flo. "We'll go hear Pinkus Lotman tomorrow. That is, if May's phlebitis doesn't flare up."

May laughed. She marveled at the amount of time she had come to spend with the two women and how much she enjoyed them. Even their bickering, which was fairly constant, was entertaining, and she never left their company without being amused and engaged.

Until meeting Lila and Flo, May hadn't realized how lonely she'd been after Irving's death. For almost a year, her only regular companion had been her neighbor Carla Rossen, a woman of seventy-eight who lived in the adjacent condo. They had gone to lunch and dinner at the clubhouse almost every day, and May had sat by quietly while her friend rehearsed an endless series of complaints.

"Do you call this a piece of veal?" Carla would demand, putting down her fork and looking around her in amazement. "It tastes like cardboard! How dare they expect me to eat cardboard instead of veal!"

Everything for Carla was a personal affront. The mailman, in placing her Boca Times in May's box, was clearly intending to insult her. "I know what he's up to," she explained knowingly to May. "He gave me the fish-eye the first time I saw him. Murray"-Murray was her husband, once a focal point of irritation, now, in being dead, a saint-"wouldn't have stood for it."

Carla's ability to find fault was at times so vast and inventive that it approached the level of a literary gift. Nothing was too small to evoke her disfavor, from the quality of the plantings next to the pool to the odor of the air freshener in the club bathroom. May dutifully listened to Carla's complaints, nodding and offering explanations as far as she could, until the friendship was finally severed when May failed to send a thank-you note for a dozen rugelach that Carla had baked for her birthday. May had not seen the necessity of a note since she lived next door and had given her thanks in person, but for Carla the omission had been a gross breach in etiquette.

"A thank-you note shows respect," declared Carla indignantly; it was a dictum her mother had taught her when she was ten years old, and she had held to it unwaveringly for nearly seventy years. "It's clear that you do not respect me."

May assured her that she did, but Carla would not be convinced and eventually ceased speaking to her neighbor altogether. Now, when they passed each other, Carla looked away with exaggerated disdain, so that Lila and Flo, who knew May's gentle nature, were mystified as to what could have elicited such a reaction. For May, Carla's hurt feelings were a source of pain, though she was also secretly relieved-being audience to so much constant complaining had been a trial. She felt fortunate to have met Lila and Flo, women with opinions and ideas who did not take themselves too seriously and who liked to laugh.

The friendship was odd in its way. Though all three women were Jewish and over seventy, they were also very different in disposition and style. Lila Katz was the shortest, barely five feet, with a trim, bosomy figure and a mass of red-orange hair that she kept carefully lacquered through weekly trips to the premier Boca stylist. It was her one indulgence, since she was on a fixed income and obliged to be vigilant about expenses.


Excerpted from JANE AUSTEN in BOCA by PAULA MARANTZ COHEN Copyright © 2002 by Paula Marantz Cohen
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Paula Marantz Cohen is Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She lives in Moorestown, New Jersey, and her in-laws live in Boca Raton, Florida. Her previous non-fiction books include Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth and The Daughter as Reader: Encounters Between Literature and Life. Jane Austen in Boca is her first novel.

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Jane Austen in Boca 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I only got this book because I am obsessed with Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I didn't realize that it would be centered around a retirement home, and when I found out that it was, I was a little disappointed. However, as I kept on reading and began to fall in love with the characters despite their age and the fact that I couldn't really relate to any problems they might have been having, I realized that Cohen has a true talent for writing. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn't wait to know the ending-- even though I knew it was based on Pride and Prejudice, it was still too addicting to put down! I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I gave this to my mother in law who raved about this book and now I see this author has another just published.....She would be here praising it herself but hasn't mastered the computer yet. But she is an avid reader and welcomed a story her generation could laugh and relate to and she just returned from South Florida and begged me to find her more like this! Any suggestions for her would be appreciated.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Perhaps if I was a lover of Jane Austen or at least schooled in the model of Pride and Prejudice, I would have appreciated this book more than I did. I found it to be very light. There was not much in the way of a plot and so for me it was 'blah.' It was an easy read and I completed the book but it was not a story that drew me in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For Mother's Day, I gave this book to grandmother, who lives in an assisted living community in philadelphia. The book has become quite a hit and is in high demand! My grandmother now keeps a waiting list for those who want to borrow the book (currently six people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful and highly recommended book...
Guest More than 1 year ago
that is thoroughly enjoyable. Read it on the treadmill, and it kept me from noticing the sweat on my brow. Everyone I've recommended the book to has also enjoyed it immensely.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cohen adapts Pride and Prejudice to the senior set living in Boca Raton with wit, a keen eye for manners and customs, and a great sense of the rhythms of language and life one encounters there. The characters show why Austen's observations about human nature are timeless, and Cohen embodies in them the qualities of the Bennett sisters, post-menopause. Most impressive is the novel's structure, which brings the characters together--and to some self-realizations--in a formal discussion of Austen herself in one of Boca's retirement communities. The book, while mildly, often hilariously satiric, brims with a generosity of spirit and deep understanding of the generation of septuagenarian Jews and their offspring. Satisfying reading for anyone who enjoys novels of manners, Jane Austen, or finely wrought observations of life in ethnic communities.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The goings-on at Jewish retirement complexes in Florida form a rich humor vein that has been mined by any number of writers, perhaps most notably Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry's parents lived in such a complex on SEINFELD, and every episode that took place there (the astronaut pen, the Cadillac, the impeachment of Jerry's dad as president of the Phase II condo association)was hilarious. Paula Cohen has found a fresh approach in modeling the denizens of the Boca Festa complex on the characters in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and part of the fun of this little novel is following the parallels between Austen's young Enlishwomen and Cohen's older Jewish women as they talk about, search for, avoid, and stumble into love. The classic story takes place amid all the stock characters and situations that make these retirement villages such a source of laughter (the Loehmann's dressing room is priceless, and, I am assured by friends whose parents inhabit these communities, on the money), but Paula Cohen accomplishes something that the SEINFELD writers never did: She makes this community sound like a pretty darn good place for intelligent, lively older women to live. That's because her humor arises out of affection. There are no Jack Klompuses in Boca Festa. A most enjoyable debut novel from a respected academic writer! And just as was the case with Levy's Rye Bread, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it...