cover image Eligible


Curtis Sittenfeld. Random House, $28 (512p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6832-6

In Sittenfeld’s modern version of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet writes for a women’s magazine, Jane Bennet teaches yoga, Lydia and Kitty Bennet are Crossfit enthusiasts on paleo diets, heartthrob Chip Bingley is a reality-TV star, and Fitzwilliam Darcy a neurosurgeon. Approaching 40, and definitely not virgins, Liz and Jane leave their jobs in New York to return to the old family house in Cincinnati after their father suffers a heart attack. Their mother, having watched contestants compete for Bingley’s hand in marriage on Eligible, believes him to be a great catch for Jane. Her hopes for Liz rest with Silicon Valley tech doofus Willie Collins. Austen fans will recognize Liz and Darcy’s instant dislike for each other, their serial misunderstandings and sexual tension, and Jane’s quiet goodness, Bingley’s sister’s snobbishness, and Darcy’s sister’s vulnerability. Sittenfeld adeptly updates and channels Austen’s narrative voice—the book is full of smart observations on gender and money. She contrasts contemporary crassness with Austenesque gentility, as when Liz and Darcy indulge in hate sex and Willie tries to French kiss Liz. No wonder Mr. Bennet laments the death of manners and the rise of overly familiar discourse. The further afield that Sittenfeld strays from Austen, the less compelling and less credible her story is, and the ending sags under the weight of a television-programmed finale. Overall a clever retelling of an old-fashioned favorite, Sittenfeld’s latest offers amusing details and provocative choices but little of the penetrating insight into underlying values and personalities that makes the original inimitable. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)