Eligible!, by Curtis Sittenfeld

engagement eligible

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 inBenethomcarnations 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.

firth_2696575b Matthew Sam-Riley-as-Mr-Darcy-in-Pride-and-Prejudice-and-Zombies Olivier

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.

MENU

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

Stuffed mushrooms

Grilled zucchini, portobello mushrooms. Brush with good olive oil, salt and pepper and grill.

Grilled steak

Hazelnut Torte, recipe from Epicurious. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chocolate-hazelnut-torte-10876

MUSIC

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 PeasMove 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.

MOVIE CASTINGsittenfeld_eligible3.jpg

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

Happy Reading!

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UPDATE: 9-8-17: Apparently ABC is investing in Eligible! and turning it into a “soapy drama series.” (Perhaps Deadline Hollywood hasn’t read Curtis Sittenfeld’s original work, full of humor.) Anyway, I’ve proposed a cast . . . let’s see if ABC takes my advice.

Want some more information about Pride and Prejudice? http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/pridprej.html

http://www.bookdrum.com/books/pride-and-prejudice/9780141439518/index.html

 

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Thankful for: Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Perfect-Palatte-Mr-Darcy-Pride-and-Prejudice-quote

Gentle Reader:

As it is the week of our national day of thanks, I determined that a review of tomes for which I am most thankful would be a most felicitous duty. Under such joyful conditions, I find my mind, nay my mind and heart, turn with instinctive abandon to the powerful, un-Zombiefied (oh, what horrors! I shudder, gentle reader, I shudder) words of our dear Miss Austen in Pride and Prejudice.

In other words, I cannot believe I haven’t previously written about Pride and Prejudice as it is one of my favorite books.

firth_2696575bHow can it not be? Isn’t it a touchstone for generations, centuries even? The plucky, courageous Elizabeth Bennet? The darkly brooding, irresistible-in-love Fitzwilliam Darcy? That Pemberly Estate!?! Reams have been written about Pride and Prejudice, over it, under it, around it. Nearly a dozen feature films adaptations, although the one that counts is the one with Colin Firth (IMHO). And countless, literally countless, knock-offs and/or tributes in print and in film.

Why?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must in want of a wife.

Perhaps that opening line, one of the best in literature, captures the reader immediately with its’ humor, and perhaps, ironic truth.

Maybe it’s the scene where Darcy and Elizabeth meet that captures our hearts.

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.

‘Come, Darcy,’ said he, ‘I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.’

‘I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room, whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.’

. . .’There is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I daresay very agreeable.’ . . .

‘Which do you mean?’ and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, ‘She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. . . .

heart+floral+vintage+Image+GraphicsFairy010bAh, ha ha! That charmer! Perhaps it is that ultimately, Mr. Darcy must
admit and recant his own pride, allowing Elizabeth the ultimate comeuppance.

Pride and Prejudice has been the subject of our book club at least once and is due for a re-reading. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, add it to your 2016 selections. And if you’ve already read it, everyone needs to re-read a great book once in a while.

MENU

I’ve scoured the pages for food references. Emma has the Box Hill picnic scene, of course, but though I can find multiple references to dining opportunities in Pride and Prejudice, I find only references to coffee and porridge in the pages of Pride and Prejudice and haven’t found the first reference to what was being dined upon during the multiple dinners.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants, and all the articles of plate which Mr. Collins had promised; and, as he had likewise foretold, he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship’s desire, and looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. – He carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him, and then by Sir William, who was not enough recovered to echo whatever his son-in-law said, and in a matter which Elizabeth wondered Lady Catherine could hear.

But never fear Gentle Reader! The popularity of Jane Austen comes to our assistance with multiple website devoted to the times of Miss Austen, the food, the clothing, the dances, the music. Here are links, with recipes:

http://www.janeausten.co.uk/online-magazine/regency-recipes/

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/category/regency-food/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/21/jane-austen-food-emma-bennet-dining

MUSIC

The easiest way to go would be the soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice, any of the film versions. Or perhaps all of them.

MOVIE CASTING

My ultimate Mr. Darcy is Colin Firth. <sigh> But if we are recasting: Benedict Cumberbatch.

Elizabeth Bennet: I think Emma Watson would be a good casting now.

Mr. Bingley: Eddie Redmayne

Jane Bennet: Felicity Jones

Mrs. Bennet: Emma Thompsonp&amp;p

That’s all I’ve got! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow for another book for which I’m thankful!

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