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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a modern day telling of Pride and Prejudice.  The endeavor to change and update a classic that has endured for 200 years is undeniably brave.  It is like painting a target on your chest and daring people to shoot at you.  So I give the author great credit there.
The whole cast of characters has been updated to fit the roles in modern society of the well off and the ultra rich so that we can all understand the class differences.  The basic elements of Austen’s plot have been neatly rehabbed, too. Mr. Bennet, you’ll recall, had no sons to inherit his estate, which threatens his family with the eventual loss of their home. Sittenfeld’s Mr. Bennet faces crushing medical bills, which will just as surely leave his family homeless. Other translations to our modern times are equally as creative: Artificial insemination and sex reassignment surgery add complications inconceivable to a society once determined by primogeniture laws.
Sittenfeld’s cleverest but slightly irritating move is working a reality-TV dating show into her story. What might seem like a bit of pandering to pop taste is really a feat of  satire. After all, just as the Austen Project recasts Regency romance in the 21st century so “The Bachelor” recasts modern dating in terms of Regency courtship. In either direction, the mashup is just as awkward and hypnotically bizarre. I found it underwhelming on the one hand, and on the other I could not put it down.

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