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.