Friday, August 21, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Yentas - cameo by Saul Bellow

Jane Austen in Boca (2002) by Paula Marantz Cohen is the only novel I've ever read featuring a blurb by Joan Rivers. Cohen is an English Professor who has now written three novels, all quite funny, all romances wrapped around plots borrowed from elsewhere. I wrote a bit about the other two, Much Ado About Jesse Kaplan, and Jane Austen in Scarsdale, or Love, Death, and the SATs, back here.

This one is Pride and Prejudice set in a Boca Raton retirement community. Is it necessary to say "Jewish retirement community"? I didn't think so. It's Boca Raton, FL, for Pete's sake.

So Elizabeth Bennet becomes Flo, a widow, a former University of Chicago librarian. Sweeter, prettier sister Jane becomes May, Flo's sweeter, prettier friend. Darcy is a curmudgeonly retired English professor at Florida Atlantic University, who falls for Elizabeth, sorry, Flo, because she's interesting. Other correspondences are created, modified, or discarded as needed. Great fun, and mostly just an excuse to put a plot around a gentle, humorous novel about life in a Florida retirement community.

Near the end of the book, Darcy, no, Stan, leads a seminar on Pride and Prejudice at the retirement community. I suspect the resulting chapter is nothing more than a transcription from Paula Marantz Cohen's own seminar. Some samples:

"Once you get used to the Old English, it reads very fast."

"I didn't know they were sarcastic back then, but I guess being sarcastic isn't necessarily modern."

"I had four sisters, too. My mother didn't stop shvitzing until we were all married. I feel for that Mrs. Bennet."

One more, and I'll stop:

"'Herb was like that [like Mr. Bennet] with the children ,' noted Dorothy Meltzer, whose deeply tanned visage was decorated with several Band-Aids marking the removal of the latest basal-cell skin cancer. She wore them as proudly as a German officer sported his saber scars. 'He went into the den with a sandwich whenever Melissa and I would start screaming. Even now, when there's noise, he can't digest.'

Several women nodded. They, too, had known men to hide in the den with a sandwich. Mrs. Bennet had their sympathy." (p. 250)

Jane Austen in Boca is definitely in the chick lit genre, retiree subcategory. I maintain - prove me wrong! - that it's the only chick lit novel that features a cameo by Saul Bellow.* Now I've read all three of Paula Marantz Cohen's novels, still the only examples of chick lit I've read. One might think that I was slumming in my vacation reading. I was, but not with this clever, light novel. Next week, the slumming.

* Since Flo / Elizabeth was a librarian at the University of Chicago. That reminds me, I should tell my Saul Bellow story. So one time, around 1994 or 1995, I stood behind Bellow in the checkout line at the Regenstein library. I didn't realize it was him until he turned to leave, so I didn't see what books he had.

Yeah, that's the whole story.


  1. In spite of the phrase, "featuring a blurb by Joan Rivers," and based only on your comments, I might be tempted to take a look at the Cohen books; however, any book with a blurb by Joan Rivers has a steep hill to climb if it seeks to overcome my negative first impression. Joan Rivers? Actually, perhaps I'm not ready for a book in which the borscht belt of the Sunshine State meets Jane Austen. Am I being too judgmental?

  2. I can't believe I didn't know these existed...oh the awesomeness....

    Your Saul Bellow story is almost as good as my bf's: "Saul Bellow used to live next door to me." "Did you ever meet him?" "No."

  3. Nicole, you bring up a point I was reluctant to mention, but what the heck. Out in the litblogosphere, there's a lot of Austeniana, most of which is, let's see, of extremely low quality. So I have been surprised at the low visibility of her books. Austen junkies: read these!

    R.T. - marketing cuts both way, doesn't it? Older Jewish women are obviously the target audience, and rightly so. But emphasize that audience too much and you scare away other people.

    If I had been browsing a bookstore, I probably would have reacted the same way: Joan Rivers blurb = Not For Me. I would have been wrong.

  4. Now that I've read this, I agree: it's charming enough to deserve a higher profile in the annoyingly endless stream of Austeniana. But then, it does approach Jane from a rather specialized angle! I too found the seminar among the best scenes and all too familiar (though in my case it was Hard Times that prompted the comment about Old English). Perhaps (tentatively) you might be amused by Bridget Jones's Diary, which is a more clever book than it is a movie...just in case, that is, you are ever tempted to expand your chick lit horizons.

  5. I have read bits of Bridget Jones and found it v v amusing, yes (and I have seen the movie and liked it pretty well)! But for whatever reason I never read the whole thing. I have shamelessly used the "v v" thing on Twitter.

  6. Oh yes, yes yes, I think I might likes this. And it has no zombies. Thanks for telling me about it.
    It really depends on the angle that is used when it comes to books like this.
    You do know that a third Bridget Jones is due out soon.

  7. Oh good. I think you will enjoy it.

    There is no reason why the story of Bridget Jones could not be continued to her old age, with her suitors whacking each other with their walkers in the retirement home.