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Sisters Annie and Miranda, and their mother Betty live in New York. Betty is devastated to one day be told, seemingly out of nowhere, that her husband of 48 years, Joseph, is leaving her. Feeling bereaved, and basically forced out of the lovely city apartment they have shared, she takes up the offer from Cousin Lou to live in an old cottage he owns in Westport, and her two daughters accompany her. The eldest, book lover and more reserved Annie, is divorced and has recently befriended an author, Frederick, but is unsure if their relationship will progress. The younger daughter Miranda, a former misery memoir publisher now disgraced, meets both a younger and an older new acquanitance in Westport. Cousin Lou throws many parties and gatherings for his huge circle of friends, which the three Weissmans attend. If this sounds somehow familiar, that's because it is likened to the classic Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility, a similar situation and characters, transported to the USA and brought into the present day, but maintaining those eternal themes of ladies looking for, losing, and finding a companion to share their lives with.

This novel is a gentle, easy and enjoyable read, about families and relationships, disapointment, loneliness and hope, but most of all about romantic love both lost and found anew. It explores how love can grow and envelop us, and yet how it can end abruptly, and leave us feeling lost, sad and lonely, and how we as humans take comfort in families, or books, or escape, depending on our personalities. I would recommend this to friends looking for an easy, romantic read, not very demanding or complicated, but nicely written.
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Notwithstanding the dust jacket reference to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, this is truly a contemporary novel. Not only is the copyright date 2010, but the current affairs background is right up to date too. The America we read of is post-financial crash, with a continuing real estate depression, and there is reference to the legality of same-sex marriage being in a state of flux.

The chief parallels with Sense and Sensibility are the contrasting personalities of two sisters, impoverished along with their mother through the influence (in this case) of a younger woman on their stepfather, their exile to a distant and inferior dwelling, and the incursion of a 21st Century Willoughby, a bounder (and by no means the only one in this story). A number of other characters can also be seen as taking their inspiration from Sense and Sensibility. But only a "loose-jointed homage" to Jane Austen is claimed, and the plot of The Three Weissmans of Westport itself becomes loose-jointed at times, at one point almost falling apart. At that moment, it seems that all the main characters have been shunted into backwaters - not just those obliged to move out of New York City to enjoy (or not) views of Long Island Sound, which it is emphasised is not even the sea proper - and that there is nothing interesting left for them to do.

Additional characters are introduced and the story gets underway again. Then the problem becomes too many characters, mostly with commonplace names, and some with no strong personality. It becomes difficult to remember who they all are and what they did last. Thank goodness for the sisters Amber and Crystal, who zoom into the story on a golf cart and whose names are rooted in our minds by reference to the homonymous "minerals". Chemists will protest that amber and crystal are not minerals, but most readers would gladly forgive that if only more of the secondary characters were given similar treatment. The story eventually reaches a more or less satisfactory conclusion; not quite as tidy as a Jane Austen ending, but in a modern setting doubtless all the more credible for that. The element of perseverance it takes to reach the end is ultimately not regretted. Meanwhile, there are some original jokes and the odd philosophical reflection to help us on our way.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 September 2014
Cathleen Schine attempts to rewrite Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibility' in this rambly account of the lives and loves of the middle-aged and older New York bourgeoisie. 75-year-old Betty Weissmann separates from her 78-year-old husband Joseph when he falls for his gold-digging business assistant (Joseph appears to be one of those men who never retire) and declares he wants a divorce. The gold-digger promptly manages to get Betty out of her apartment, and Joseph, who appears to have lost all will power through love, starts planning a thoroughly ungenerous divorce settlement. Homeless, Betty decamps to Westport with her two daughters, who are both thoroughly unsettled by their stepfather 'Josie''s horrible behaviour. And they have problems of their own - Miranda, a literary agent, is going bankrupt after the bulk of the misery memoirs in which she specializes are found to be fakes, and Annie is caught up in an unhappy affair with the brother of her stepfather's mistress, and worried about money - being a librarian just doesn't pay enough. During their time in Westport Annie comes to rely on a kind, one-dimensional family friend and discovers some shocking news about her lover Frederick, while Miranda falls for an actor some 15 years her junior, discovers the joy of looking after his little boy, and is then humiliated when he disappears. And there are a lot more surprises to come, as more characters (including a scheming 20-something girl and Miranda's fling's ex-wife) come on the scene.

This is a thoroughly depressing look at middle and old age, peopled with irritating self-dramatizing characters. No one in this book is happy or has come to terms with their lives. The characters constantly bewail their poverty while enjoying luxurious meals and investing in little treats (all perhaps except Annie, the novel's one admirable character). Joseph's mistress, always whining about money, is a caricature of the gold-digging second wife, while Betty is bland and uninteresting (and comes across often as pretentious, as when she declares that as she is 'of late, a widow' she cannot cope with the 'emotional' trauma of synagogue). Joseph seems to oscillate wildly between villainy, feeble capitulation and being 'really quite nice', while Miranda comes across as so naive that one wonders how she ever founded a successful business. Everyone moves in a closed circle of rich, self-satisfied people with no real interests (again apart from Annie, who at least loves books). And the ending of the novel is awfully messy - a brief tear-jerking disaster, an adventure for Miranda that's explored with no pyschological depth at all - and the Annie story just fizzles out in confusion (what was all that about Amber and the baby?).

The subject of this novel could have been interesting, but the shallow treatment of the characters made it ultimately a boring read. I won't be revisiting this author's work.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2010
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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on 18 May 2013
Betty and her two middle-aged daughters come to share a cottage in Connecticut [Westport]. Betty's long marriage to Joseph has ended with his falling for another younger woman. Miranda's business - a publisher of dramatic autobiographies, which have turned out to be fabricated - has gone bust. Annie - the anchor and rock - continues to work in her library, but has empty nest syndrome, her sons having left home and their father long, long gone. It is about the women's relationship with each other and how they have changed and not changed as the years have passed. Annie and Miranda find new love interests, but not as they hoped or expected. It's strength is its acute and sympathetic reflections on happiness and fulfilment after the tide has gone out. The impact of a mother on the lives of her daughters is convincingly and movingly written. Comparisons with Jane Austen are not misplaced.
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on 5 January 2011
This story was recommended in one of the sunday supplements as being loosely based on Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility - very loosely! The characters were older than I thought they would be and the story was very slow to get going. I have to say I didn't really like or care for the characters at all. I can't say that I would recommend it'
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on 12 January 2011
I have to agree with other reviewer -very slow to get going although I did read the whole book. It did pick up towards the end but I did not find the characters or story drew you in - I felt quite remote from them all. I guess if you have connections with Westport and Cape Cod you might find it all easier to picture.
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on 7 January 2013
Easy to read story about an aging mother and her two middle age daughters at critical junctures in their is warm and funny in parts but essentially about the diminishing expectations of aging
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on 19 January 2011
Witty, enjoyable romantic comedy based on Austen's Sense & Sensibility. If you have a sense of humour and want a good read for the beach or the plane and enjoy a romance, this is a book for you.
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Cathleen Schine's novel is based upon Austen's `Sense and Sensibility' - in fact, she's really tried to rewrite the story in the modern day. I've never been a huge Austen fan, so wasn't really sure what I would make of this.

This is a good, easy read with some interesting characters and a decent enough plot but that's about it really, it's probably just about enough to keep the reader interested enough to keep on until the end.

The difficulty with trying to re-write a classic story is that the author must stick to the plot and this is where the novel fails for me. I found it all rather contrived and some of the major characters lacked depth. Betty, the mother is being divorced at the age of 75, yet her feelings were never really conveyed to the reader. Miranda and Annie, the two daughters were far better characters, although at times their behaviours just didn't ring true.

There were rather a lot of strange twists in the story too - these twists seemed to add little except to confuse the reader.

On the whole, it's an easy, pleasant read but it certainly wouldn't make me want to explore more of this author's work.

I think reading groups may find more to discuss, especially around the connection to Sense and Sensibility.
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