Books: A Satisfying Read

by anneMoore on April 7, 2010

Why do we read books that puzzle and confound?

Earlier this week I was fortunate to join in a book club’s discussion of Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. I hadn’t talked about a difficult read, at length, with a group of smart, educated women since I was in college. Such interesting talking points: Does it matter if a character is unknowable? Unlikeable? If there’s a plot? If we know the story’s end at its beginning?

When we couldn’t agree on the book’s subject — alienation? immigration? colonialism? a marriage? — the hostess (thank you) piped up. She liked the “business” of the book we were discussing, but pined for a structured read with a character-driven plot. Such as? “Jane Austen.”

I enjoy difficult reads, but I also welcome and sometimes deeply need an Austen-like read, where there’s a problem, or three, worked out in a pleasing way that sometimes ends with a marriage. “Or two marriages,” a book club member observed.

weissmanns-lgThis is a long way to recommending Cathleen Shine’s The Three Weissmans of Westport. Using Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as a frame, Shine provides a smart, funny, satisfying read about two adult sisters who move with their elderly mother, newly divorced and homeless, to a Connecticut cottage. They’re all New Yorkers, so the dislocation from fabulous lifelong digs on Central Park West, to the suburban seaside, is a hilarious jolt.

They’re a recognizable but nutty bunch. Instead of divorce, the mom pretends she’s widowed; after all, she is mourning a marriage. Sister Miranda falls in love with … her lover’s toddler son! Sister Annie frets over their collective spending (they have no money!) and her puzzling on-again, off-again romance with a famous writer.

Sure, it’s Austen’s set up, but Shine unravels the story in new, fresh, witty ways. I laughed out loud, on a city bus, reading it. Best of all, the book ends with a funeral that’s as good as a wedding.

A delightful read.

Comments are closed.