Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016)

A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

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This novel was a delight to read, insightful and funny and still true enough to the original story to be recognizable while being modern enough to be completely relatable to present day readers. All of your favorite characters and major plot lines are present and accounted for, and in my mind better for all their contemporary problems and flaws. What has changed, however, is the setting  — which has have been moved from nineteenth century rural England to modern day Cincinnati, New York City, and Palo Alto — and with updated plot twists right at home in the twenty-first century.

I feel that I must add that I am neither a Jane Austen purist nor am I a super-fan of the original novel and that seems to play a role in my willingness to wholeheartedly accept the updated story. I get the feeling from friends that this is not the case for some fans of Austen, who find the retelling too modern for their sensibilities.

Just as in the original, you will find the Bennett family: a once wildly wealthy, high-society Cincinnati family who, after years of frivolous spending, are facing bankruptcy. Their stoic, resigned father; their desperately social climbing, political incorrect mother; and (most famous of all) the five beautiful Bennett sisters…none of whom are married or with any prospects of financial stability. After a medical crisis bring Liz and Jane home from New York City both women get their first close look at their dysfunctional family and must sort out how best to support them all the while dealing with their own personal problems.  What follows is a delightful comedy of manners, a family drama, and a self-exploration story all rolled into one.

The story does a wonderful job of chronicling of struggles of Liz, at thirty eight, and Jane, at forty, who both are facing pressure to hurry up and find love and begin their families. Both women are being constantly reminded, by their mother and by life, that they are facing a lonely future because of their lack of willingness to settle for the men that have been in their lives so far. Both Liz and Jane are well aware that their chances of love are dwindling; as is the family fortune that has buoyed them for their whole lives; and that they must face hard choices about whether to settle or simple give up on a “traditional” future. This pressure to marry and have children is brought into the 21st century with mentions of artificial insemination, parenting without partners, and sexual exploration. Adding to their personal worries are the complications of caring simultaneously for their aging (and financially irresponsible) parents and their lazy, crass, and pampered younger sisters.

While the concerns about finding marriage, love, and fortune are shared with the original; some of the wilder plot lines really bring the novel up to date including: reality TV, transgender issues, sex (a far cry from the delicate and virginal relationships of the original for sure), tech-start up millionaires, obsessions with CrossFit and yoga, and much more. These elements do not detract from the story but make it all the more humorous and relatable to present day readers.

I highly recommend this novel, even if you have never heard of the original. The story stands on its own as a funny novel about women in search of happiness, despite their wacky family’s determination to make it nearly impossible. My recommendation: enjoy, as I did, poolside on a hot July day.

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