Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Review -- Jane Austen In Scarsdale

After an absence due to the sudden onset of panic attack disorder (thanks Kate, for keeping the blog afloat), I'm back with another Friday Review.

My favorite novel in the whole wide world is Jane Austen's Persuasion. I love it, love it, love it for reasons emotional and intellectual. Like so many romance fans, I love all Austen. But aside from the insanely good Clueless and the more insane but not as good Bridget Jones, I don't have much familiarity with the JA "updates." I wondered if Paula Marantz Cohen's new modern Persuasion, Jane Austen In Scarsdale, would fill me with delight or horror.

Having read the novel, I have learned that I will never find Austen's basic plot (rich girl meets poor boy, rich girl's family convinces her to ditch poor boy, rich girl's family loses money, newly poor girl remeets bitter and now rich boy) anything less than charming. I smiled when I discerned the underlying Austen-structure, smiled with something like the fondness of recognizing an old friend, rather than gritting my teeth at lesser reflections of Austen's characters and incidents as I worried I might. Cohen does an admirable job of replicating in her heroine, Anne Ehrlich, the quiet dignity, subtle wit, unshowy self-confidence and non-irritating superiority of Austen's Anne Elliott. And if her Ben Cutler is less swoon-worthy than Austen's Fredrick Wentworth, well, that deck was stacked from the beginning. He's a fine hero and a fitting reward for our lovely heroine. I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters to their young romance, in which they bonded over Ruskin's Stones of Venice.

The romance holds up well, but Cohen really shines when she steps away from the Austen template to focus on the cut-throat world of college admissions in an elite suburb like Scarsdale. College counselor Anne Ehrlich is a beacon of sense in the maelstrom of irrationality, pride, anger and ego that the parents of her students produce. Cohen's satire of the whole admissions process, from the private "application polishing" consultants, to parental expectations, to college fairs, is spot-on (and I can speak with some authority, not only as a recent college graduate, but also as the daughter of a college counselor at a high school in an exclusive suburb). Best of all, Cohen never descends to sniping meanness, always seeming to understand the emotions that drive these hard-to-please parents, even at their most unreasonable.

To any Persuasion novice, I emphatically insit on your reading the real thing before sampling any imitators (the letter scene!). But for those who love Persuasion and want a pleasant romance for a winter afternoon, or those who enjoy gentle contemporary social satire, I can strongly recommend JA In Scarsdale. For myself, I'm off to read her first novel, Jane Austen In Boca. Pride and Prejudice at a Jewish retirement community? Why not!

Next week: Eloisa's latest (sorry Kate, it's about Imogen) and some exciting news of my own.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Real McDreamy

You may take a look at the picture on this posting and think that it doesn't belong on a romance blogging website. But dear reader, please consider that television has brought us some of the finest romances of all time. Unlike novelists, TV writers can tease us with six or seven seasons of sexual tension. How marvelous is that? How inspiring (and distracting) for someone like me, who definitely doesn't want to sit down and start writing Chapter Eleven for Revising Mr. Right?

Inspiration for writing has to come from somewhere, and for me it often comes from other people's characters. (Be prepared: I am about to take you through the twisted inner workings of my brain.) Know that I am well-versed in the art of fictional obsession. As a child, my first crushes were on book people--Gilbert Blythe, for starters, and Mr. Darcy as I got older. As I discovered well-written television, I expanded my affections towards Chris in the Morning from Northern Exposure and various sexy undeads ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But in all my years of drooling over men who don't exist, nothing (and I mean nothing) could have prepared me for the advent of George O'Malley.

For those of you who don't watch Grey's Anatomy , this is a show about surgical interns living and lusting at a Seattle-based hospital. The show pivots around intern Meredith Grey, who spent the first season carrying on a clandestine affair with a hot brain surgeon labeled McDreamy. O'Malley was a platonic roommate who just so happened to be harboring a titanic crush on her... but she was clearly "off the market" until McDreamy turned out to be married.

Now, like most of the G.A. fan world I felt bad when McDreamy's cheating wife showed up and spoiled his adorable romance with Mere. But as the weeks went on, I grew considerably less enchanted. Meredith kept making calf's eyes at another woman's husband, and McDreamy (though ostensibly committed to working out his marital problems) kept sending sexy gazes and star-crossed comments in Meredith's direction. Reading the writers' blog, it's become clear to me that most fans take this as a sign that Meredith and McDreamy are Meant to Be. They make all sorts of comments about the two characters needing to get back together.

But personally, I think it's rather disgusting. The man needs to make up his mind and quit stringing along two women. Newsflash, fans: McDreamy doesn't love anybody so much as he loves himself. And Meredith's allowed a certain amount of wallowing, but it's not okay to totally ignore and then wantonly use your closest friends for totally disturbing and callous sex.

You want real love? Take a look at O'Malley. If we're looking for a Rachel and Ross equation at Seattle Grace Hospital, this guy is definitely Meredith's "Ross." He is by her side, literally holding the umbrella when her emotional *%#@ storm descends. He tries to protect her from the lameness that it McDreamy's emotional manipulation. He's a caring and compassionate roommate. He gives her sympathy, but he tells it like it is when she needs some criticism (see: men are not all dogs). He's good in a crisis, too (see: open heart surgery in an elevator, helping Bailey through labor complications, etc).

I have my heart set on O'Malley and Meredith finally getting together, after she gets over McDreamy (and herself) and finally grows up a little. But after last week's episode, I'm convinced that this will take awhile. O'Malley finally confesses his feelings to the oblivious object of his affections and instead of turning him down (like a real friend would) she decides to jump his bones just to make herself feel better. Very high ick factor. And of course he doesn't say no, because he's in love and he's horny and he's wanted her for how long? Besides, one gets the sense that he's a little inexperienced with these things and... well, basically I just want to hijack this character, place him in the middle of a romance novel, and make him happy. He deserves happiness.

When will women learn that having a McSweetie is ten times better than having a McDreamy? And if I write romance novels about legitimate McSweeties instead of self-involved langorously gazing jerks, will anyone want to read them? Or are heterosexual women really committed to fantasizing about alpha-ass-as-love-object?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mini-Macky-D Post

I'll post a longer, official Friday Review later today. But for now, an observation:

I'm reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Dream A Little Dream (widow of a crooked televangelist returns to the town he swindled, etc. etc.). And I'm noticing the excessive amounts of fast food consumed by the characters. Seriously, every meal mentioned is either McDonald's or KFC. The hero's trying to fatten up the starved heroine, but hasn't he heard of broccoli? Pasta? Complex charbohydrates?

They even get their coffee from McDonald's, which no sane person would do! The complete lack of any understanding of how awful this food is for you (combined with the fact that one of the charcters gets a "sexy" makeover and starts wearing tight tops tucked into white jeans) convinced me that this book was written in the '80s. But the copyright* is '98.

Is this a reprint? Or does SEP just really enjoy crap food?

* original post read copywrite. I have a one-track mind.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

February is... Light Regency Month!

What do we mean by "Light Regency?" Think Julia Quinn and the sparkling Bridgerton wit, as opposed to Mary Jo Putney and Waterloo officers with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Y'all know what we're talking about here--I don't need to elaborate!

Send us recommendations of books full of dukes with stunning pectoral muscles, frothy-skirted damsels, morning trots through Hyde Park, jokes about Prinny, and intrepid pug dogs who inadvertently bring about catastrophe.

Groundhogs are for Poetry

Today is the day for blogger-wide silent poetry readings (which I learned of on Knitting Underway). I knew I wanted to post some Donne, my favorite poet of all. But rather than my trusty stand-by, favorite poem and likely wedding program motif "The Goodmorrow," I'm going a little religious. Not something often seen on this blog, but if anyone can make religion seem sexy, it's dear old John. And while this reading's supposed to be silent, if you read the poem aloud it's that much better:

Holy Sonnet XIV

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.