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JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA by Paula Marantz Cohen

JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA

By Paula Marantz Cohen

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-29088-8
Publisher: St. Martin's

The title says it all. Cohen, a humanities professor and author of several books of scholarly nonfiction, offers a kosher teacake of a first novel loosely fashioned after Pride and Prejudice and elucidating the social mores of genteel Jewish retirees in Boca Raton.

Cohen’s Boca are the condominium complexes full of retirees primarily from the Northeast. Best friends May Newman, Flo Kliman, and Lila Katz are widows in their 70s living quietly in Boca Festa, a typical Boca complex, not as shabby as some nor as grand as the most exclusive. Then Carol Newman, a contemporary suburban yenta cum Emma, sets up her placid, passive mother-in-law May with Norman Grafstein, a wealthy retiree, while financially strapped Lila encourages the attentions she receives from the crudely foolish but relatively well-off Hy Marcus. That leaves Flo, a former librarian at the University of Chicago, who claims to be uninterested in romance. Sophisticated, acerbic Flo is soon sparring with Norman’s friend Stan Jacobs, the recently widowed, somewhat dour English professor at the local university who is too overtly critical of the Boca lifestyle for Flo’s taste, though she’s not above mocking the foibles of her fellow residents herself. Enter Mel Shirmer, a divorced former journalist, too charming by half, who woos Flo while he considers buying a condo. The transparent plot, a follow-the-numbers exercise in Austen-copying, concerns the ups and downs of the widows’ romances. To say all ends happily gives nothing away. The story works best as social commentary—who knew, for instance, that Jews of a certain generation were Anglophiles who chose British last names like Howard and Irving as first names for their sons? The British and New Jersey accents here sometimes collide, but the Boca community is certainly Austenian in its rituals, rules of etiquette, and daily rites, such as shopping (Loehmann’s), home decorating (lots of turquoise), and entertaining (lots of food).

A silly trifle but clever and fun.