The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Cathleen Schine
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Buy *The Three Weissmanns of Westport* by Cathleen Schine online

The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Cathleen Schine
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
304 pages
February 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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When Joseph Weissmann asks Betty, his wife of 48 years, for a divorce, she is shocked and surprised. After all, he is 78 and she is 75. Joseph claims that the divorce is based on “irreconcilable differences,” to which Betty replies, “of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce?” Then she discovers that “the name of Joseph’s irreconcilable difference was Felicity Barrows,” the VP of her husband’s company who has now taken over the husband.

Betty Weissmann’s daughter Miranda is having problems of her own. Miranda is “predictable in her unpredictability,” “both caustic and disarmingly kindhearted.” Though she is considered a “nightmare,” in the end “no one ever doubted her loyalty or finally, her goodwill.” Miranda loves to be in love and claims to have never gotten married because she is too busy with the success of the Miranda Weissmann Literary Agency, said success gained by publishing heart-wrenching memoirs. But scandal erupts, and after appearing on Oprah and being accused of publishing fictional biographies based on “fraudulent, recycled lies,” Miranda’s once-powerful agency begins to collapse – along with Miranda.

Annie Weissmann, Miranda’s sister, appears to be the only one who is sane and managing all life’s ups and downs. A single mother of two grown boys, she is busy working and keeping an eye on her mother’s spending and her sister’s brooding. She is the one who worries and takes care of all the details, all while also trying to keep her attraction to a certain man in check – Frederick Barrows, who happens to be the brother of Felicity Barrows, her soon-to-be stepmother.

The three women decide to take up their Cousin Lou’s offer to stay in Houghteling Cottage in Westport to clear their minds, recuperate from the chaos, wait for Joseph to make a “generous” offer in the divorce settlement and help one another to move forward from their individual “losses.” In this cottage, Betty, Miranda and Annie each find introspective moments that transform their lives, and those of others. One sees how tightly lives are woven into a complex tapestry of relationships that can be shaken simply by one person’s whim.

This experience of being together gives Schine the opportunity to reveal what Betty Weissmann calls “the beauty of irony” in the three women’s lives – such as the mailbox being painted with the name “The Wisemen.” Also, Schine beautifully portrays the details of life that were once considered mundane but suddenly are missed in the new life without a free-running cash flow, such as the table napkins that used to be dry-cleaned but suddenly, much to Betty’s chagrin, must now be washed in the washing machine.

Schine’s characters are credible, lovable and multidimensional. Schine effectively portrays the strengths and weaknesses of her characters: how Betty is a true matriarch of the family, even as her husband’s new love tears the family apart, and how Annie and Miranda exist as individuals, grown women, but when they are together with their mother, they can also become young girls and sisters, competitive and bickering, needing comforting and guidance as children.

The landscape and community of Westport come alive with its beaches, elaborate homes and eccentric personalities, which makes a fascinating backdrop to the story of these three women and their journey in life as individuals as well as mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and lovers. The Three Weissmanns of Westport is an absolutely delightful read filled with drama, humor and the bitter-sweetness of life’s journey. Highly recommended.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Maya Fleischmann, 2010

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