I am a lover of all things Jane Austen. Obviously, her books are held in my highest esteem and most treasured spot in my heart. But I also adore movie adaptations, both faithful and updated, books about Jane, her Facebook page, and updated adaptations of her books, told from a modern perspective. So it was with overwhelming enthusiasm that I cracked the spine of Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld.
I like Sittenfeld. Her first book, Prep, was a fast, fun read that I also found smart and painfully reminiscent of my own adolescence. The American Wife had a similar tone and I enjoyed the salaciousness of imagining Laura Bush taking on the challenges thrown at Sittenfeld’s imaginary first lady, said to be inspired by Bush.
So I had reasonably high hopes for Eligible. And I was mostly satisfied. Eligible, subtitled as a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, is set in the author’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. (Strike one. I lived in Columbus for five long years – I consider it to be the least of all Ohio evils – and can’t understand why anyone would set a book in Cincinnati. Aside from a pretty awesome use of Skyline Chili, there’s no other utility to the setting.)
The sisters’ names are unchanged, to save confusion and brain power, I guess. Jane is approaching 40 and lives in New York City near Lizzy. The girls return home for a summer to straighten out their parents’ affairs after Mr. Bennet falls ill. Half the fun of this book is getting to each well-known plot point and seeing how Sittenfeld deals with it. What is Wickham hiding? What scandal befalls poor Lydia? What could Bingley possibly find at fault with Jane? Why is Mr. Darcy such a douchebag before becoming the world’s most beloved suitor?
Allow me to just throw out some terms and let your imagination run wild: reality TV, in-vitro fertilization, LGBTQ issues, dot-com success stories, booty calls and hate-sex. Intrigued? You should be.
Strike two comes in the telling of this thoroughly ridiculous but undeniably entertaining story. Sittenfeld simply tries too hard to match the flow and cadence of Austen. It’s distracting. The best parts of the story happen when she drops that pretense and just goes with the flow. Case in point – when one of the younger Miss Bennets tells one of the elders to “fuck off” it is just too much fun. You know that’s what Kitty and Lydia were thinking every damn day. It’s gratifying to see it in print.
I’m glad to say there is no strike three, as long as you don’t take the book (or your dedication to Ms. Austen) too seriously. Thankfully, I do not.
For Christ’s sake, Mary, put a sock in it.
First of all, I’m not gay. And even if I were, I’d rather be a lesbian than a sociopath.
“My dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “if a sock puppet with a trust fund and a Harvard medical degree moved here, you’d think he was meant to marry one of our girls.”
To purchase Eligible, click here