Sense and Similarities

Certain phrases always catch my eye as I’m scanning book reviews: “debut author”, “projected series”, “only die-hard fans”, “shortlisted”, for example. This spring, “beach read” has been much in evidence.

That’s a loaded term, isn’t it? Sure, it conjures visions of striped tote bags with paperbacks spilling out onto the sand (promising ample time to soak up a good story), but it also denotes a certain lightness in, er, intellectual content. Problem?  Not for me; I maintain that some well-crafted froth is essential for a happy reading life.  Besides, “light” and “clever” are not mutually exclusive terms. The only truly unfortunate application of the BR label that I can envision is this scenario: you’re an author, you’ve poured months of your life into a novel that is eagerly received as a beach read–only you didn’t think that’s what you were writing. Ouch!

Cathleen Schine needn’t worry. Her latest, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, captures the BR spirit with its endearing family dynamics, but its homage-to-the-classic structure and sprightly dialogue deserve extra points for literary appeal.

See if this sounds familiar: elderly patriarch exits, thus depriving mother and two daughters access to his financial assets. Decamping to free lodgings offered by a cousin with an expansive personality, the three women resort to a life of reduced circumstances in–that’s right–a cottage. Did I mention that one sister is impulsive, while the other counterbalances that rashness with decorum and grace?  Retaining Austen’s essence–the sense of devotion to ideals underscored with a witty wariness–Schine updates the script with daytime TV actors, commuting, Palm Beach, and Central Park West.

Guess the outcome if you wish, but be prepared to remain, along with Betty, Miranda, and Annie, happily involved and alive to all the possibilities.

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