Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pemberley by the Sea

by Abigail Reynolds
426 pages
Reviewed by Melissa

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the title -- specifially the subtitle: "A modern love story, Pride and Prejudice style"-- enough so that I was willing to pick up a copy of the book. A modern retelling of a Jane Austen classic, I thought. That could be interesting.

And, at first, it was. Cassie is a marine biologist in Woods Hole, on Cape Cod, working on summer research (it is explained in detail, but isn't quite worth going in to), when her lab assistant, Erin, meets Scott, high-powered biotech businessman. Erin and Scott fall instantly for each other, and suddenly Cassie finds herself being dragged along as a third wheel. Then she meets Scott's famous, reserved, proud friend, Calder Westing, and everything changes. They have nothing in common: he's rich, from a powerful family, and completely "above" her; she's a college professor with a poor, inner-city upbringing, someone who has had to struggle for everything she's gotten.

So far, so good. We have Darcy and Bingley, Lizzy and Jane, in situations similar to what Austen conceived (there's even a dance, where Calder can snub Cassie). Granted, the writing isn't nearly as concise or witty, but that's forgivable. Not everyone was blessed with Jane's genuis.
But, then, it all falls apart. Calder and Cassie have sex in the ocean (in the only truly memorable -- and erotic -- sex scene), and decide that they just can't keep their hands off each other. (They decide this after the fact, which was kind of amusing.) They keep falling into bed together, in spite of their mutal misunderstandings, anxiety, and attempts to control themselves. It all ends at Christmas, when Cassie walks away from Calder forever.

Ah, but there's a twist: Calder Westing is none other than Stephen West: brilliant, insightful, best-selling author. And he writes a book called Pride and Presumption (A modernization within a modernization? Now it's getting absurd.) where he tells his side of their story. Cassie gets a copy of the book (because Calder has applied for a writer-in-residence post at the college she works for) and after reading it, realizes that she woefully misunderstood him. She reaches out to him, and when he comes back into her life, they fall back in bed together. And, at this point, the book is only halfway done.

As the plot and characters unraveled for the rest of the book -- going from one ridiculous situation to another, punctuated by passionate sex between Calder and Cassie -- I realized that this was chick lit sex fantasy masquerading as a modern Jane Austen take, if only to give it a smidgen of legitimacy. However, this was not just no Jane Austen; it was no longer a modern Pride and Prejudice.

I'd like to say at this point that I was too put off to finish it, that I was noble and grown up and had better things to do with my time. But like every bad soap opera episode I was sucked into in college, I found I couldn't tear myself away, and, yes, I wanted to know what happened to Calder and Cassie, and how they got to their happily-ever-after.

And so, I finished it down to it's very last schmaltzy, sex-saturated, overwritten page. I am not proud of myself.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Thanks for the review. I've been trying to decide if I should tackle this one.