Title: The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
For a plot summary
Participating in the Reading New England Challenge this year has helped me discover books I might not have found otherwise. For this category, I needed a book with a Connecticut connection and while I started Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I just could not get into it. O Mr. Twain, an editor would have been a good idea….but, that’s a post for another day. The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine was an unexpected, but fine discovery.
Betty Weissmann is 75 years old when her husband Joseph asks her for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences (“Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce” says Betty)? In his case, those ‘irreconcilable differences’ have to do with another woman and poor Berry is forced to change everything about her married Manhattan life, including leaving her home. When a distant relative invites her to live in his rental cottage by the sea in Connecticut, she accepts his offer and asks her two grown daughters, who have just suffered tragedies of their own, to move in with her just until the divorce, which Joseph is dragging his feet on, is finalized.
Annie, the oldest daughter, a mother of two grown sons who works at a small subscription library in New York City, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome and a stalled love affair. Though she has always thought of Joseph as more than a step-father, she is angry and shocked at his treatment of her mother, especially having cut off her funds and kicking her out of her home. Helping Betty is Annie’s priority, her finances in particular, since Betty will be on a budget for the first time in her life. She decides to sublet her apartment and commute.
Miranda, the second daughter has just made a spectacular mess of her literary agency business. Specializing in memoirs it has been discovered that two of her well-known, that is, financially-fruitful authors lied about their rags to riches life and their books are total hoaxes. To make matters worse she appears on Oprah where she tries to justify their literary license with an “everyone makes things up,” excuse. Oprah doesn’t buy it, shakes “her iconic head,” and Miranda is shamed. She loses everything.
As the three women spend these months helping each other through their losses, romance becomes an underlying development for both Annie and Miranda against the dissolution of Betty’s marriage. The relationships are surprising and progress gently, but they are real and stable, as steady as can be in real life.
And here I must mention the Sense and Sensibility connection. While this novel is loosely fashioned as an homage to this wonderful book, there are enough differences in many major plot twists to make it not matter. I say this because you don’t have to know the classic text to fully enjoy this book, and secondly, if you are disappointed that the novel does not follow the classic text, you will be critical of it.
This is my first Cathleen Schine and I found her strong in character development, thoroughly enjoying the journey each of the three Weissmanns have to undertake to find peace and acceptance in their lives. The supporting characters, too, are well-defined, each assisting or subverting the women along the way.
Schine writes with humor and intellect and I adored the mention of so many classic writers and their novels the sisters, both book lovers, mention at various times:
Then, invariably the sisters would quote Louisa May Alcott at each other—“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain”—and move on to other things.
And when Miranda characterizes one of Betty’s lawyers named Mr. Mole, as Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, I howled!
The Three Weissmanns of Westpport is reading time well and happily spent.