cominer

Cathleen Schine's Wonderful, 'Sensible' New Book

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 8:43 am

Make no mistake — a positive review in The New York Times Book Review, especially on the cover — can sell books.

About a month ago, I wrote about the trouble I was having finding Cathleen Schine’s new novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Powell’s, in Portland where I live, couldn’t get copies, same with Barnes and Noble. Even online Barnes and Amazon had been listing it on backorder.

I reached out to Schine’s publicist at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Laurel Cook, to find out if there had been some sort of production problem — after all, it had received a front page, fabulous review in The New York Times Book Review and it seemed it shouldn’t be so hard to get the book.

“Even though there were a substantial number of copies printed and advanced, the demand after the NYT review was unprecedented,” Cook said.

So, I waited and a couple of weeks ago, I went back to New York for Passover and renewed my search, striking out at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway and 82nd and another store before finally finding a guy who knew a guy.

The question now is, Was it worth it?

The answer?

Hell, yeah.

Listen. I’m not the first person to talk about how wonderful this book is.

Read what The New Yorker had to say

or

Adam Kirsch at Tablet

or

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

“When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five,” the book begins.

Joseph’s wife, Betty, is stunned when he tells her that after 48 years, they have irreconcilable differences.

“Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?”

Beginning with whomever wrote the copy for the book’s dust jacket, there is no shortage of people comparing the novel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility — just transported to Westport, Connecticut.

And certainly that’s true to a large extent. Betty stands in for Mrs. Dashwood; her daughters, Annie and Miranda, for Elinor and Marianne; Cousin Lou is there for John Middleton.

But stopping at the comparisons doesn’t do Schine or her book justice. With all deference to Austen, Schine has taken a recognizable quantity and layered it so deeply, with plot twists and language that is witty without being overdone, that you are the richer for having spent time with it.

“In the contested apartment, Betty Weissmann took some satisfaction in finishing a bottle of Joseph’s favorite single malt. Some satisfaction, though not much, for Betty did not like single malt whiskey.”

and

“Betty watched her daughter from the other side of the room. How serious she looked. Attractive, in a severe sort of way. Betty remembered giving Annie a sweater with sequins, just a few sequins, very tasteful, very chic. The look on Annie’s face — it was pure, such pure dislike. Betty smiled. It was like the time Annie had wanted a cowboy outfit and they gave her a pink cowgirl skirt. It had offended her, even at five. If she had known the word ‘garish’ at that tender age, she would surely have used it.”

and

“The waves were uniform and hushed, each gentle white hiss followed by another. She saw some sea glass, a nice lage piece, beautiful muted green, but she was too stiff to bend down and pick it up.”

Almost every page brings a moment of joy, a moment that will have you delighting in the book. Schine builds her book masterfully — so much so that you don’t realize the true achievement until you’re close to finishing and wanting to slow down so the sad moment when the book will end, is postponed.

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