I'll admit it: I'm a diehard Austen fangirl. I fell in love with the Regency era where the rules of society required politesse, beautifully flowing dresses, curled hair, and public balls with lots of handsomely-dressed men. (And you might notice some of my Austen fangirldom come through in our upcoming third novel, The Passionate Scribe!) Obviously, as a teen, I missed the biting social commentary cleverly hidden amidst the romance.
Somehow, Curtis Sittenfeld manages to translate the essence of Pride and Prejudice to the 21st century, bringing the social commentary to the forefront without sacrificing any of the robust sexual tension of the original. Jane and Liz (the oldest and most successful of the five Bennett daughters) are forced to leave New York City and return to the heartland of fly-over states—Cincinnati—when their father suffers a heart attack. Kind and stunningly beautiful Jane is a yoga instructor. Liz writes for a women's magazine. The younger sisters still live at home and are deliciously incompetent. Mary is on her third online master's degree, while Kitty and Lydia are too busy with CrossFit to notice the family home, and their parents' lives, deteriorating around them.
But the Bennetts are still the cream of society and, at a garden party, are introduced to the fresh-off-a-reality-show, newly-relocated-from-LA Chip Bingly (ER doc), and his brain-surgeon best friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Chip is as adorably naive as Austen's original, and his insta-love for Jane actually works.
Dr. Darcy is fantastically snooty, then endearingly tentative and teachable as Liz's accidentally-on-purpose jogging partner, sounding board, and "hate sex" buddy. Sittenfeld does a masterful job of telling the story through Liz's cynical eyes, and yet making the reader root for Darcy to win her over.
For me, the contemporary setting made the story more dramatic, despite knowing the plot ahead of time. The secondary romances (Charlotte and step-cousin Collins, Lydia and her CrossFit gym owner, Kitty and the *gasp* black realtor) provide a lush backdrop of emotion as Sittenfeld draws out the animosity, attraction, and tension between Darcy and Liz. How Darcy redeems himself from the horrifyingly awkward "Your family is trash, but I love you" discussion, and their ultimate soul-baring climax make the book well worth the time.
Overall, Eligible is beautifully written homage to the timeless Jane Austen with quick wit, dysfunctional families, and a very satisfying romance.