Sittenfeld takes on the challenge of modernizing Pride and Prejudice as part of the Austen Project in her fifth novel (Sisterland, 2013, etc.).
Gone are the rolling hills of the English countryside. In Sittenfeld's latest, Longbourn has been transformed into an oversized and neglected Tudor in the upscale Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati. The Bennet sisters range in age from 23 to pushing 40, all unwed but certainly not inexperienced. Kitty and Lydia are politically incorrect CrossFit fanatics; Mary cares little about the crumbling state of her family’s affairs as she collects online degrees; Jane is an ethereal beauty of a yoga instructor who wants very badly to become a mother; and Liz, well, Liz is a New York–based magazine writer who fixes everyone else’s problems as the Bennets find themselves together again after a health scare (and Mr. Bennet casually reveals he has no health insurance, oh, and two mortgages…). The modernization of this classic story allows for a greater and more humorous range of incompetency and quirks; for example, Mrs. Bennet now has Valium and online shopping to distract her from constant anxiety. These familiar characters must deal with issues far beyond class and the all-important institution of marriage; everything from sexuality to racism to eating disorders and single parenthood factor in. And it’s all written in a giddily charming blend of 19th-century novel–meets–21st-century casual swearing: Liz finds her enemy, Caroline Bingley, “looking bitchily gorgeous in an expensive frock.” Oh, it’s about time we get to the Bingleys and our man of the hour, pensive neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy. As the Bennets deal with financial ruin, Cincinnati welcomes a new doctor, Chip Bingley (and friends), to town; he's recently starred on the Bachelor-like reality show Eligible…which (surprise) did not end in love. In the end, it takes an exceedingly long time, with Liz busy being the “voice of reason amid a cacophony of foolishness,” for Darcy to feel significant to the story.
Delight in this tale for its hilarious and endearing family drama, but don’t expect to get the same level of romantics and Darcy-inflicted swoon that make the original untouchable.