Cathleen Schine’s modern adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, Sense and Sensibility, The Three Weissmann’s of Westport, was named a New York Times Book Review Book of the Year in 2010; but, retelling the beloved tale is no easy task. Schine’s choice to use a talented, respected and widely known writer’s work as the foundation for her contemporary novel creates a paradox for her readers. Some readers approach Schine’s text, the tale of the Weissmann women, mother Betty, and her daughters Miranda and Annie, with an open mind, enjoying her new conceptions and how they are different from the original. Still, others are tied down to their love and appreciation for the formatting, style, and characterization of Austen’s original material, which keeps them from finding value in Schine’s alterations. Readers of either opinion note that the contemporary interpretation lacks the individuality and inventiveness required to stand alone and effectively entertain. Although some of Schine’s modernizations of the old text work for today’s audiences, she remains limited by her associations with Austen and her superior writing styles.
Although the stories written by Austen and Schine are parallel in many ways, the reader notices there are also stark contrasts in writing style and efficiency that remind the reader The Three Weissmann’s is a poor reconstruction of Sense and Sensibility. While a reader of Austen finds himself or herself absorbed in the personalities, emotions, and experiences of the family, the same cannot be said for the reader of Schine’s version. Schine’s novel is interesting where she directly re-creates Austen’s characters, settings, and plotlines. For example, the Weissmann’s move from New York city to a cottage on a beach in Westport Connecticut, where they must live to get by. Yet, despite the potentially interesting framework of the story, Schine fails to build any fresh or salient concepts of her own. The reader who already knows Austen’s work doesn’t want a predictable inferior copy, he or she expects something more.
In order for the reader to develop an interest in the story and keep it, there must be elements of mystery and surprise to keep him or her guessing, which Schine fails to provide. Austen’s novel makes the reader wonder how the Dashwood women will get by financially after their male heir passes away. The reader’s investment in the plot that follows reflects a concern for the future well-being of the characters. Schine’s adjustments to this part of the story make it significantly less intriguing. In The Three Weissmann’s, Joseph Weissmann is not dead; instead, he divorces Betty. Throughout the text, Schine implies that Joseph will restore their relationship and financial status; therefore, there is no mystery as to how the women’s crisis will be resolved. Altering this piece of the story makes it unnecessary for the daughters to develop any significant relationships of their own to help solve this major family concern. Thus, Schine never succeeds in making her reader want to know what will happen next.
In conclusion, the novel is predictable and uneventful. Schine simply cannot and does not compare to Jane Austen. Schine’s ability to convey the story, setting, and characterizations seem lacking, because the reader cannot help but compare the two. With Sense and Sensibility around, there should be no reason to read The Three Weissmann’s of Westport. Those willing to give the modern author and interpretation a chance will most likely be disappointed, as Schine never establishes her own ideas or story.
Final Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars