#WhatImReadingNow : Eligible

After the flurry of greetings, Liz found herself talking to Keith, who was congenial and, she quickly discovered, engaged to a woman finishing her medical residency in San Diego. By the time the chicken breasts had been grilled, and the potato salad, coleslaw, and rolls set out, Liz and Keith had covered the topics of San Diego’s climate, Cincinnati’s climate, and Cincinnati’s famous chili, which Keith had not yet sampled. As Liz and Keith moved on to Keith’s interest in golf, Liz was gratified to observe that Jane appeared to be deep in conversation with Chip Bingley; that conversation continued as Jane and Chip procured food and took seats side by side on a mortared stone retaining wall, soon joined by Chip’s sister Caroline.

When Liz had prepared her own plate of food, she walked to the four-person patio table where Fitzwilliam Darcy was sitting with the husband of the intern and one of the older doctors. The older doctor and the husband were discussing how the Reds were faring this season, and, addressing Fitzwilliam Darcy (or, Liz reminded herself, just Darcy), Liz pointed to the empty chair. “Is this seat taken?”

“It is,” Darcy said. He didn’t temper his rebuff with any apology, and Liz assumed he must have misheard her; he must have thought she’d asked if the seat was free.

She said, “It is taken?”

“Yes,” Darcy said, and he remained unapologetic. “It is.”

In spite of Charlotte’s warning about Darcy seeming standoffish, Liz was so disconcerted that she was tempted to say, Forgive me for imagining I was worthy of sharing your table. So he had gone to Harvard Medical School; so he was a neurosurgeon—neither fact gave him carte blanche to be rude. Before moving away, she smiled in a manner she hoped he understood was fake.

Spying Kitty and Lydia nearby, Liz walked to them and perched on the cushioned ottoman by Kitty’s knees. Her younger sisters were debating the ideal time to arrive at their next gathering, which apparently would be hosted by the owner of their CrossFit gym. Lydia pointed toward the roll on Liz’s plate. “Don’t carbs make you feel sluggish?”

“Everything in moderation,” Liz said. There were many reasons she found her sisters’ enthusiasm for CrossFit and the Paleo Diet irritating, including that Liz herself had been familiar with both long before they had, having written an article about CrossFit back in 2007. Another source of irritation was that her sisters looked fantastic; they had always been attractive, but since taking up CrossFit, they were practically glowing with energy and strength.

[Liz] was almost finished eating and even more insulted by Darcy’s snub than she’d been at first, because the chair beside him had remained empty all this time. She took the opportunity to go inside, wash the barbecue sauce from her hands at the kitchen sink, and check the message. …

Standing just inside the back door, looking down at her phone, Liz gradually became aware of a conversation occurring on the screen door’s other side; after focusing for a few seconds, she realized the speakers were Chip Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

“—much better than I expected,” Chip was saying. “When I told people I was moving to Cincinnati, I was practically getting condolences, but it’s not bad at all.”

“Said like a man who’s just spent an hour talking to the only good-looking woman at the party,” Darcy replied. “Not counting your sister, of course.” Liz could hear the rattle of ice cubes, then Darcy added, “I’m sure they do their best, but Cincinnatians are painfully provincial.” Inside the kitchen, Liz smiled. It was oddly satisfying to receive confirmation of Darcy’s snobbishness.

In a friendly tone, Chip said, “In your first year here, you didn’t find any lady Buckeyes who met your exacting standards?”

“I can hardly think of anything less tempting,” Darcy said.

Chip chuckled. “Someone told me Jane’s sister Liz is single, too.”

“I suppose it would be unchivalrous to say I’m not surprised.”

Liz’s jaw dropped; abruptly, the eavesdropping had ceased to be satisfying. Who did this man think he was, and what did he have against her personally? When being introduced, they hadn’t exchanged more than 10 words.

“Here’s what I’ve learned about the people in this city,” Darcy was saying. “They grade their women on a curve. If someone is described as sophisticated, it means once during college she visited Paris, and if someone is described as beautiful, it means she’s 15 pounds overweight instead of 40. And they’re obsessed with matchmaking. They act like they’re doing you a favor by conscripting you to have coffee with the elementary-school teacher from their church during the two free hours you might have in an entire week. I’ve lost count of how many of my colleagues’ wives have tried to set me up. With your having been on TV, they must be licking their chops.”

“You know what?” Chip said. “I’m making it my mission to get you a social life in Cincinnati, and don’t try to tell me that’s an oxymoron. If all you have is two hours a week, let’s make them a great two hours.” His affectionate tone was, Liz thought, no particular credit to him— not only was Chip apparently unmoved to defend her from Darcy’s aspersions, but it hadn’t even seemed to occur to the former that his friend’s words were offensive.

“Good for you if you like it here now,” Darcy said. “And I don’t mean that facetiously. But I’ll be curious what you think this time next year.”

As Chip began speaking, Liz pushed open the screen door and, in an emphatically friendly tone, said, “Hi!” She glanced from Chip’s face to Darcy’s and, making eye contact with Darcy, held his gaze for an extra beat. “I was just inside thinking what grade I’d give myself,” she said. “I realized it would be an A-plus, but I’ve heard we grade on a curve here, so I’m probably what—more like a B for the coasts? Or a B-minus? If you have a minute to figure it out, be sure to let me know.” Without waiting for either to respond, she walked past them, eager to repeat Darcy’s comments as widely and quickly as she could.

—Curtis Sittenfeld, Eligible (A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice), Random House 2016

Some thoughts about this book:

  • The only thing I regret about reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s delightful Eligible is not taking a romp through the original Pride and Prejudice first. But just for fun—because I had no trouble recognizing the characters, the situations, the places, even though they are updated by two hundred years and moved to the United States. Some purists won’t care for it, but whatevah! I thought it was delightful.
  • I love literary fiction, and Sittenfeld does not disappoint. Sure, there’s a romance at the heart of it—and it’s very satisfying, even though you know what the outcome will be, having read Pride and Prejudice. (Because you have, yes?) The writing is excellent and feels very Austenish, though it, too, is updated for this century.
  • This book is one of several suggested (commissioned?) by the Austen Project. I haven’t read others, but I might. :)
  • The theme here has to do with the obligation we have toward others—kindness, compassion, empathy—and where we must draw the line in terms of those responsibilities.
  • One forgets how much an unlikable character (or several!) can do for a story. Writers, don’t be afraid to consider this.

#MyReadingYear

Tweet: An unlikable character (or 3) can do wonders for a story. Writers, don’t be afraid to consider this.
Tweet: This is Pride & Prejudice updated 200 years and moved to the United States! I loved it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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2 Comments

  1. E McD says:

    Heehee! This was fun! Makes me want to read the whole thing. It’s been ages since I read/ watched Pride and Prejudice (the last exposure was watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube, which I suppose sort of counts). I like modern retellings provided they’re done well.