Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

She has been called the Jewish Jane Austen. She writes intelligent, witty, social satires. Her name is Cathleen Schine, and her latest, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, is a modern family saga about marriage, money, love, aging, and real estate (the themes are not necessarily addressed in that order).

The plot is this: Seventy-five year-old Betty Weissmann thought she was happily married until Joseph, her husband of forty-eight years, comes home one day and announces that he is divorcing Betty due to "irreconcilable differences." The irreconcilable difference is Felicity, Joseph's mistress, a younger woman who has designs on the couples' posh Central Park West apartment. Betty is essentially thrown out of her own home.  She moves to Westport, Connecticut, into an old, run-down beach bungalow offered by a cousin.  Betty's loyal and devoted daughters, in their 50s and with problems of their own, rush to their mother's side.

Miranda is a Type-A workaholic literary agent whose career is in crisis thanks to a James Frey-type scandal surrounding one of the authors she represents. Annie, the older sister and a mother of two grown sons, is a rather staid library director, more pragmatic and prone to worry. The three women--with vastly different personalities and quirks, strengths and weaknesses--unite against the injustice bestowed by Joseph. In a show of solidarity, the three women move into the bungalow together. While the daughters think they have come on the scene to support their mother, it is Betty who ultimately rescues her daughters from some very complicated romantic entanglements and the woes of midlife.

As always, Schine's work reflects an authentic New York-Metro area sensibility. She is a master of revealing perceptive, often hilarious, insights about her characters (see also The New Yorkers, She is Me and The Love Letter), while also weaving unexpected twists into her page-turning plots. Chapter Thirteen of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, when the three women set off to celebrate Christmas, Jewish-style, in Palm Beach, is a perfectly paced scene of farce-like proportion. It speaks to the heart (and heartbreak) of the human condition. Once again, Schine shines!