Review: “Eligible” by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligibleLiz Bennet. Darcy.  Bingley and Jane. Kitty and Lydia. Mary. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Nope, I’m not listing the characters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. …Well, actually, I am, but I’m also listing the cast of characters from Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book Eligible, “a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.”

Here’s the thing: I’ve read MANY retellings and reworkings and revisions of P&P; it’s kind of a requirement for the modern romance reader, ya know? I mean, Pride and Prejudice is the plot from which many of today’s romance novels take their formula for love. Also, go to Listopia on Goodreads, and type in best love stories. Guess what’s always at or near the top of list? That’s right! P&P, baby! Jane Austen rules the modern romance reader!

Anyway, I only say this because I want you to know this: I know P&P, and I love it and all things related to it. And I want you to know that out of all of the MANY P&P tributes I’ve read, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is officially the most memorable and the best written one I’ve read so far.

Yeah. That’s right. I said it. THE BEST.

In Sittenfeld’s world of Eligible, Liz Bennet is a writer-at-large in NYC for the magazine Mascara, where she writes feature stories and a column on notable women. But she’s home in Cincinnati with her sister Jane, who also lives in NYC as a yoga instructor, due to a health scare that Mr. Bennet has had. They are 38 and 39, respectively, and Mrs. Bennet bemoans not her husband’s health but her two eldest daughters’ unmarried states (of course!) and the fact that they will not be able to have children in their advanced ages.

Did I mention that the other three–Mary, 30, Kitty, 26, and Lydia, 23–still live at home? Of course, they do, even though they all have college degrees! (Mary’s actually working on her third degree!) Liz is the only Bennet who is completely self-sufficient and not relying on her father’s dwindling inheritance.

Enter Chip Bingley, doctor and former reality star from the TV show Eligible (think The Bachelor), where he asked no one to marry him with a major influx of tears. On his part, natch. Well, Mrs. Bennet, who you have to know is drooling over the idea of one of her daughters hitching her wagon to the handsome doctor, arranges for her daughters to meet Chip at the Lucases Fourth of July BBQ. And, you know, Jane and Bingley ensue, but in a contemporary way.

But the BBQ also allows us to meet Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome doctor extraordinaire with a seemingly prideful demeanor that Liz finds equally humorous and antagonistic. As with P&P, Darcy insults Liz (in her opinion) with the most demeaning insults of her hometown, which she left (Hello, many ironic moments!), and her looks (not her specifically but those of Cincinnatian women, in general). Confrontation ensues between the two, and she proceeds to tell everyone about his insults. This Liz has a predilection for gossip and an interest in people that fits with the modern times and her job as a writer.

Well, anyone who has read P&P knows how this will turn out, but here are a few things that are specific to this novel. Ill-timed pregnancy. Transgender relationships. Financial hardships, including massive debts and no income. Crossfit. A reality TV program filming a confrontation between Liz and Caroline Bingley. 🙂

And satire, but that’s in the original, too. But modern readers who have never been able to get through Jane Austen’s version will enjoy the modern updates and Sittenfeld’s satirizing of characters in today’s society and their values, as much as Austen’s contemporaries must have enjoyed her satirizing the original characters and the views on marriage and women during her time. (Seriously, there were parts that I felt like I was reading The Onion.)

SIDEBAR: There’s a Charades scene where Kitty and Lydia star as the ridiculous Millennials in a roomful of Generation Xers. Some view them with resigned tolerance, and some don’t. You can probably guess which ones.

Plus, it’s a funny book. Liz is funny, even though Darcy is right when he claims she’s “not nearly as funny as” she thinks she is. She’s a lot like her family in this regard. While the rest of the Bennets are almost always eye-rolling funny without meaning to be, Liz is sometimes funny without meaning to be, too, a description that truly would burn her britches, as she thinks she’s a little above the absurdity that is her family, but is an accurate description, nevertheless. Her penchant for gossip and for viewing others through her sometimes narrow lens is fodder for the problems of defining people on just one instance, rather than the whole of the interactions. And I’m not just talking about the lens through which she views Darcy, either. She has a married lover, Jasper, whose reality is much worse than her perception, a piece of dramatic irony that we, as readers, can see, while Liz is in the dark for a loooooong time.

For those of you who have read Pride and Prejudice (or watched Keira Knightley’s version of the movie), you know that some misunderstandings and regrets are in store for our heroine, Liz, but though it all, her good humor and focus on the positive gets her and us through these issues. In fact, Sittenfeld deftly maneuvers us through Liz’s disappointments, which Sittenfeld could have easily turned into a dour look on life and love, but instead, ends up showing how gracefully, humorously, and maturely a character can face these reality-based bumps in the road.

I would, and have, recommended this book to all of my reader friends, and I hope that you, my readers, will also pick up Sittenfeld’s Eligible!

Until next time, enjoy Liz and the Bennets!

Ta-ta for now,

HMicheale

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