Cohen, whose contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen in Boca, 2002) was a delight, now tackles Persuasion in this strained romance about a high-school guidance counselor and the man she reluctantly threw over 13 years before.
Anne Ehrlich met Ben Cutler when she was a senior at Columbia and he was a bookish travel agent from Queens. Though deeply in love, she broke up with him because her family, rich Westchester Jews of German descent, didn’t approve of his plebeian background and lack of obvious prospects. Now she’s a 34-year-old unmarried guidance counselor at a Scarsdale, N.Y., high school, where she helps students apply to college. Cohen offers astute social commentary on the college admissions process, specifically the wooing strategies that occur between high-school seniors and the colleges of their choice. Anne’s family is now financially strapped because her father has run through the family fortune he inherited from Anne’s mother, who died when Anne was very young. To pay her father’s debts, Anne is trying to sell the large but increasingly rundown family home in which she was raised by her maternal grandmother, Winnie, a crotchety but lovable grandame whose disapproval of Ben influenced Anne. Out of the blue, a certain Jonathan Cutler transfers to the school; he has been living abroad with his single mother and his Uncle Ben, now a famous travel-book author. Although Ben is engaged to his Danish assistant, a pleasant woman named Kirsten, and despite some slight diversions with Anne’s other suitors, there is little question where things are headed.
Cohen plods along the Austen road map, but the characters lack wit; they’re more often pathetic or mean than funny.