Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A pair of pretty persuadable pieces of prose

Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen's final novel Persuasion has become a favorite template for modern authors to update and expand. I take a keen interest in such books since I was first introduced to Austen's works thru Persuasion(still one of my favorites-when I visited Lyme Regis with a group of JA fans,I did a reading of Louisa Musgrove's famous fall on the steps of the Cobb). One of the reasons that Persuasion is popular with the female friendly crowd is it's theme of recapturing a love given up long ago and getting the chance to fix a major mistake. Goodness knows that's something alot of us would leap at.

For your reading pleasure,we have two new takes on Jane's last stand;Jane Austen In Scarsdale by Paula Marantz Cohen and The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz. Both are good entertaining stories,even if you've never read or seen a JA related film. They do,however,approach the Austen theme in very different ways.

Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Scarsdale has a subtitle"Or Love,Death and the SATS" which well describes most of the novel's focus. Her heroine,Anne Ehrlich,is a guidance counselor at Fenimore High in Westchester and one of her most challenging duties is calming down the frenzied parents of hopefully well placed college bound students. She also has to cope with selling the family home due to her father's debts and the reappearance of Ben Cutler,a now successful travel writer who was once in love with Anne but she broke it off with him on the advice of her grandmother,Winnie(oddly enough,there's also a character named Winnie in The Family Fortune). Ben's nephew is spending his senior year at Fenimore and Ben wants to get him into Columbia(which is Anne's alma mater-Ben attended Queens College and worked at a travel agency which is how he and Anne first met).

Cohen also wrote Jane Austen in Boca(think Golden Girls meet P&P)and as in that book,her scope is not just on the connect-the-dots Austen plot points but a gentle satrical look at the community the characters are set in. Most of the best scenes in the novel have to do with meeting with parents who think that having their child diagnosed with ADD will give them a better shot(and more testing time)at college applications and students who are either scarily overprepared or underwhelmed at the prospects of life beyond high school. She does put in the recognizable Austen characters and expected moments but it's merely a loose outline rather than a boilerplate version. Nothing wrong with that-Cohen is a delightful writer with a sweet center and sharply tuned wit. Just don't expect a carbon copy,Jane Austen in Scarsdale is more of a "inspired by" type of literary homage.

The Family Fortune is abit more by-the-book than Jane Austen in Scarsdale but that doesn't make it a retrend into already familar turf. Rather,it's a lovely excursion into Austen country with some fun new looks along the way. Jane Fortune is our leading lady here,who runs a literary journal that also gives promising new writers a fellowship to give them a leg up on their careers. One of these fellowships lead Jane to Max Wellman,who is now a well respected author back in her life just as her family's debts force them to relocate. The Austen links are more secured by the appearance of Guy Callow(now that's a great name),an ex of Jane's snobby sister Miranda that keeps turning up like the proverbal bad penny.

One of the things I really liked about Family Fortune is how developed Jane's character is. She started up the Euphemia Review(named after her great-grandmother)out of a real love of literature and gets into a search for a writer named Jack Reilly who submitted a amazing short story to her but seems to have vanished. Jane evens contacts an old friend,Hope Bliss(another great name)who runs a detective agency to help find him. Jane's circle of friends certainly balance out her vilely selfish sister and father,not to mention family friend Priscilla,who was the one to talk Jane out of being with Max years ago. One of my favorite parts of this book is a cocktail party where sis Miranda is the "expert" at giving yet she makes the worst social errors towards her guests. I don't usually laugh out loud when reading but came pretty damn close to doing that here.

Jane Fortune is not just a stick figure Mary Sue;she's a giving person who has no clue about how special she is and it's touching at times to see her blossom,not just from reconnecting to Max but also for her other achievements. I believe this is Horowitz's first novel and it's one that makes me want to see more from her. There's a qoute from Edith Wharton(along with an Austen one)near the beginning of the book and the Wharton influence shows in her portrayal of the attitudes of high society and it's many follies. Top notch storytelling with a wink and nod at the classics.

Both titles are in hardcover and The Family Fortune should be available today(check title link for more details). Jane Austen in Scarsdale is already on the shelves and whichever one you find first,you won't be disappointed. Heck,if you can't decide,get both! With such lovely spring weather,a good way to enjoy it is
to take a good book outside and find the right spot to read and relax. Persuasion is all about renewal and spring is the best season for that.


Jake McCafferty said...

You're so smart you make my head hurt. I wish I could read books like that. I can't make it past the book jacket of many of "the classics."

lady t said...

Thanks for the props,Jake but believe me,some of those "classics" even make my head hurt,too:)