Gentle reader, imagine my delighted surprise. I was driving along, returning to my home from an out of town visit and listening to a book on tape, (Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld) when the narrator mentioned Doodles restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. A place of business less than a stone’s throw from my own back door. If only I could have stopped the narrative, run from the car, and found female readers’ own favorite protagonist — Lizzie Bennet — having lunch as described! The questions I would ask her! The advice I would offer! The friendship we would develop!
Alas, as all incarnations of Elizabeth Bennet inevitably are, this one too was fictional. But what a great fiction. In Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld has written a Lizzie Bennet for the modern American woman. This Liz lives in New York and writes for “Mascara” magazine but hails from an upper middle-class family living in a deteriorating Tudor in Cincinnati’s tony Hyde Park neighborhood. Her mother is an annoying shop-aholic with a penchant for seeing all five of her girls married well; Mr. Bennet is a dry, history buff, who has recently suffered a health scare bringing Liz and her older sister (nearly 40) Jane home from New York where sisters Mary, Lydia and Kitty greet their two older siblings with something less than unadulterated enthusiasm.
Lydia and Kitty as obsessed with their paleo diets and CrossFit, Mary is working on her third post-grad degree on-line and refuses to leave her room, beautiful Jane is a yoga instructor who has grown tired of waiting for the right man and decides to try artificial insemination. And Lizzie — our Lizzie! — is having an affair with a married man. NO, NO, NO: say it ain’t so. But it is: one Jasper Wick.
During their summer in Cincinnati to help care for Papa Bennet, all of the girls are invited to a Fourth of July barbecue where they meet: Chip Bingley, E.R. doc and recent contestant on reality romance show (a la The Bachelor) “Eligible;” Chip’s sister Caroline Bingley, his agent and a miserable, albeit attractive, snob from the moment we meet her; and — wait for it — ahhhhhhh! Yes! YES! YESSSS! Dr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome, eligible, cross-training, Skyline Chili-loving, Cincinnati-hating, Liz Bennet-insulting millionaire –our hero! Fitzwilliam Darcy.
In fact, all of our favorites are present in Eligible, just adapted (sometimes only slightly) for the present day.
YOUR MOTHER HAS shared a tragic piece of news about Cousin Willie with me,” Mr. Bennet said when the family was assembled for dinner. “He’s coming to visit.”
“Really, Fred,” Mrs. Bennet said, and Jane said, “Dad, that’s an awful way to set us up.”
Mr. Bennet smiled as if he’d been doubly complimented. “As you all know, my sister is flying out next week, to check if I still have a pulse and, in the event that I don’t, to take possession of our mother’s silver. For reasons that elude me, her stepson has decided to accompany her.” Liz swallowed a spoonful of the gazpacho Jane had prepared and said, “I know you all find this hard to believe, but Cousin Willie is kind of a big deal.”
“And if I were an insomniac,” Mr. Bennet replied, “I’d like nothing better than to hear him explain why.”
“Maybe he can tell us why the Internet in this house is so slow,” Kitty said.
“Or teach Mom to use her cellphone,” Lydia suggested.
“His start-ups have made millions of dollars,” Liz said, and Mr. Bennet said, “Yet he doesn’t know how to put on a pair of trousers.”
“That was 1986,” Jane said.
With each new chapter, I was delighted again by how true Sittenfeld’s Eligible is to the character and detail of each element of Pride & Prejudice while updating the story to our time. Of course Liz would be a journalist. Of course, Kitty and Lydia would be obsessed with Cross-Fit and paleo. Of course, Chip Bingley would be the eligible bachelor choosing among vying beauties on a reality television show.
Setting the Bennets in nearby Cincinnati was a charming bonus. Even the day trip to Berea that included a stop in Lexington. Darcy hails from California and hasn’t seen his Stanford classmate Jasper Wick until he bumps into him at Skyline with Liz in Cincinnati. Jane retreats to upstate New York for a while during a bit of confusion with Bingley. Caroline Bingley wants to be a television star herself.
In the audible book version, the reader gave an inexplicable Valley Girl accent to Liz, which really annoyed me. A midwestern accent does not sound like a Valley Girl. And I wondered why Sittenfeld chose to end the novel where she did with a chapter about Mary that reads almost like a separate story than a conclusion to Eligible. I’ve reached out to the author via twitter and hope I can provide a supplement that answers that question, and perhaps more.
I give Eligible my highest recommendation. I’m actually choosing it for my turn to host book club next month. It’s the perfect, fun summer read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
There are lots of mentions of food in Eligible, everything from Skyline chili to macrobiotic gazpacho. However, my menu will include appetizers from a wedding reception and the menu Darcy served to his guests at Pemberley.
Bruschetta with goat cheese & sundried tomatoes spread
Grilled zucchini, portobello mushrooms. Brush with good olive oil, salt and pepper and grill.
Hazelnut Torte, recipe from Epicurious. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chocolate-hazelnut-torte-10876
Though Liz runs with earbuds, Sittenfeld doesn’t list much, if any that I can recall, music. Here’s my playlist:
For Jane, some Enya.
For Darcy, Taylor Swift‘s State of Grace is rumored to be about him. And Carly Simon‘s You’re So Vain, not for Darcy, but quite appropriate.
For Chip Bingley, Isn’t It Romantic. I like Chet Baker’s version.
For Caroline Bingley, Bitch by Meredith Brock.
For Lydia, anything you’d hear in Cross-fit, but I’m putting Blackeyed Peas “Move It” on mine.
For Mary, Eric Carmen‘s “All By Myself.”
Bruno Mars, “Marry You.”
Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly.”
Delbert McClinton‘s Two More Bottles of Wine — in celebration of Liz’s appearance on Eligible.
Jane: Diane Kruger
Elizabeth: Natalie Portman? Katherine McPhee? My first pick for a modern actress to play Liz would be Emma Stone but she’s too young for this Liz.
Mary: Zooey Deschanel
Lydia: Sarah Hyland
Kitty: Ashley Benson
Chip: Chris Evans
Darcy: (OK, you know I have to do it) Ryan Gosling
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Want some more information about Pride and Prejudice? http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/pridprej.html