My favorite book is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I feel in love with it the first time I ever read it. The strong, independent character of Lizzy is someone who I strive to be. I’ve seen a few adaptations, read a few as well, but I’m also open to new ones in my ever expanding world of P&P. So, when my sister got me ELIGIBLE by Curtis Sittenfeld, who is a writer she loves, I was excited to start reading it.
Right from the beginning I was enamored by several elements of the book, for it truly was a modern retelling. The one that made my heart light up most was the fact that Jane and Lizzy were in their late thirties. Being a lady in that age range, I feel so hopeless and abandoned when all the best love stories are wasted on the youthful. Our lives, our stories don’t end one we hit the big 3-0. I really appreciated the tender focus Sittenfeld placed on this small detail. I also enjoyed how gritty it was. I’ve only ever read one previous book of hers, PREP, and the thing that stuck out to me about that one was the unabashed truth-telling that encompassed the book. It wasn’t all rainbows and roses. It was the beautiful sunset overlooking the city dump that can humanity can be. We are complicated dark creatures, and I enjoy that she doesn’t shy away from exposing that characteristic.
There were, however, some other elements that felt a bit cliche. You could argue that’s the point, that the younger Bennett sisters are in fact cliche characters, running quickly to the hottest trend to stay in the up and up in society. This is the category where I would fit Cross Fit, cliche yet understandable. Yet, the situation surrounding Ham, I’m not to easy to coincide with. This portion of the book did not sit well with me. I did not enjoy it’s inclusion and felt it was exploitative. Besides being a hot button issue of our real world culture, I did not find it’s inclusion to be saying anything important. I realize this is a harsh stance to be taking, but it’s a cause I am an alley to and I tend to get high-horsey when it’s addressed in ways that are less than powerful. To me, it didn’t fit with the character that Lydia was created to be, and that concerns me because then it really becomes about exploitation and she’s doing it to “make a point” in a bad way. I realize I might be seeing darkness where they isn’t any, and that could be entirely my fault, but this is my initial reaction.
The other intense reaction I had to the story was the relationship between Darcy and Lizzy. This, to me, is the whole reason why I am attracted to P&P. There a strength in both of them, the unwillingness to compromise, but later finding out that its that unwillingness that is indeed what makes them change and meld together—and in turn leads to compromising. In this version, however, I wasn’t a fan of Lizzy and the way she interacted with Darcy. I also am aware that this could, in fact, be tied to the exposed grittiness of human flaws, I connected more to her distanced distain than her superficial indulgence. For me, there wasn’t the unseen bond that was formed between them that captivated their hearts, instead it was muddled by their sweaty sheets.
Even with this complex contradicting view of my first read-through, I’m eager (in time) to read it once more. I think I’ve finally grasp the type of writer Sittenfeld is, and I want to re-approach her work with a clearer view of her vision. ELIGIBLE, while it may not be my favorite, is a beautiful adaptation that created a whole new world while honoring the original. I deeply appreciate that.