Curtis Sittenfeld is one of those authors I brag about reading because she’s one of the only semi-serious ones in my collection. I was absolutely enthralled by American Wife, could not get enough of Prep, very much enjoyed The Man of My Dreams, didn’t completely love Sisterland, but optimism reigned when I saw that she had come out with a new novel: Eligible. The fact that Eligible is a modern rewrite of Pride and Prejudice did not deter me at all — not because I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with Pride & Prejudice (book, movie, or otherwise), but because I’ve never read/seen it. (*Lets waves of shock pass through blog post reader.*) Seeing this excerpt tweeted a few weeks back only deepened my yearning.
Set in 2013 Cincinnati — which I enjoyed because I just went there for the first time last year and could really picture it, you know? — Eligible tells the tale of the Bennet Family, Chip Bingley, and Fitzwilliam Darcy. (Even if you, like me, have never read/seen Pride & Prejudice, I hope the name “Darcy” rings at least a tiny little bell.) The Bennet family consists of husband and wife Fred and Sally, who are growing increasingly tired of one another and descending the Cincinnati social ladder due to lack of funds, and five unmarried daughters: Jane, Liz, Mary, Lydia, and Kitty. Jane and Liz are the oldest and live in New York but have returned to their hometown for the summer to help take care of their father after a heart attack scare. Mary is a bit of a recluse, which makes everyone think she’s gay, who still lives at home, as do CrossFit-obsessed Lydia and Kitty, who have that millennial disease of thinking they don’t need jobs and can live off of their parents forever. Chip is literally one of the most eligible men in the country; he’s a Harvard-educated surgeon and just wrapped a The Bachelor-esque reality show, and status-obsessed Mrs. Bennet is keen on marrying off one of her daughters to him. Fitzwilliam Darcy is Chip’s best friend and, to main character Liz, rather blunt in the most unpleasant way.
Throughout Liz’s return to Cincinnati, she tries to support her sister Jane and the famous Chip’s budding romance, gets in multiple confrontations with Chip’s snotty sister Caroline, tries to replace one almost-relationship with another, discovers that her parents are actually a complete mess financially and emotionally, all while trying to maintain her job as a writer for Mascara magazine. (Honestly, the amount of things Liz is able to pay for on behalf of her family from her magazine salary is, like, Carrie Bradshaw unrealistic. I know it’s Cincinnati not New York, but come on!) I was very distracted from the Liz-Darcy romance by the stuff with her parents because I identify with it so much, particularly the horrifying and disheartening switch from your parents being people who take care of you to being people you need to take care of, but only you have realized that the switch has occurred. Unlike me, Liz still has her father’s humorous comments to get her through the tough days, and Mr. Bennet’s snide quips paired with all the references to the utter ridiculousness of The Bachelor and other reality shows are great comic relief throughout the book. I can only imagine what the show and some other aspects of the story (i.e. Lydia eloping with a transgender man) translate to in the original book.
It’s safe to say that this is my favorite book so far this year (not many to choose from yet, but still.) Do yourself a favor and read this excerpt, and see if it draws you in as much as it did me. If it does, and you read the whole thing, even if you’ve never even had one inkling to read/watch the original Pride and Prejudice, I guarantee you will not regret it.