Many of this season’s beach reads claim Austen’s blessing (and filch her plots). But dubbing yourself a modern-day Jane is like claiming to look like a movie star: The star just comes out looking better in the end.
THIS SIDE OF MARRIED
By Rachel Pastan
Viking, 259 pp., $23.95
This self-styled dose of “Jane Austen in Philadelphia” boasts a matchmaking mama with an M.D. who’s just as silly (but not half as funny) as Austen’s Mrs. Bennet. The Philadelphia Story was more progressive than this.
SUCH A GIRL
By Karen Siplin
Atria, 308 pp., $23
The flap copy promises, “Just as Bridget Jones’s Diary did for Pride and Prejudice, Karen Siplin here updates (and shakes up) the premise of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, placing the characters in a modern, multicultural landscape.” Even if we allow that Bridget “did” something for Jane, rather than the reverse, pulling Persuasion out of Georgian society means the modern, multicultural lovers have no excuse for not communicating like grown-ups. The most interesting parts concern the heroine’s job as a hotel switchboard operator—poor Anne Elliot never even had a paper route.
By Darcy Cosper
Three Rivers, 340 pp., $12.95
The 17 weddings of Darcy Cosper’s debut novel aren’t lifted from Austen, but the novel does lead off with a Mansfield Park epigraph, and its heroine scorns female friends who “accepted Jane Austen’s novels at face value.” Where’d Austen get her reputation for romantic idealism? Pride and Prejudice alone is packed with unhappy unions! Cosper’s is the best of the bunch, but none benefits from invoking Austen. Janeites, stick to your dog-eared copies of Emma.