Tuesday, May 01, 2007

First Impressions, by Marilyn Sachs

Alice has always been an excellent student and gotten good grades, so when she gets a C+ on her paper on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, she is shocked. More so because she disagrees with her teacher's reasons for giving her the grade (Alice had written about the tragic nature of the character of Mary, instead of seeing her as a humorous figure). But as Alice re-reads the novel as part of a make-up assignment, she begins to appreciate the strength of Austen's novel and the ways it can give her strength in her own life.

[Let's quickly note my extreme distaste with any teacher who would downgrade a student's literary criticism because it was different or unusual (I recall a not-so-pleasant encounter or two of my own with literature teachers who were beholden to their particular views and graded on the basis of whether you agreed with them or not). To set up a story in which the great dramatic arc's end is to agree with the teacher is insulting.]

This is an ambitious, but ultimately confusing and disjointed novel. The story involves elements of fantasy mixed with realism as Alice find herself inside the story, re-writing what the characters do. A fascinating device but one which is used merely to point out that Austen is such a genius that a teenager is foolish to attempt to re-write her novel. Afairly unnecessary and even arrogant idea. As for a story, gthis is all over the place. Is it about Alice? Her relationship with a boy? Her mother? All of the above?

I am certain that within this novel there are plenty of wonderful allusions to Austen's work that I am undoubtedly missing. Truly Austen fans will probably find these clever stylistic devices and thus find something to enjoy in the book. In fairness, I'm really not a big fan of Jane Austen, so perhaps the exercise is wasted on me and I am an unfair critic or a lost cause.

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