Authors: Paula Marantz Cohen
“Don’t think these modern Austenites are any less fun to read about than their nineteenth-century counterparts just because they’re wearing golf pants instead of Empire dresses.”
“Borrowing from Jane Austen with witty panache, Cohen shows us a social world percolating with its own brew of prejudice and mistaken assumptions.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[An] amusing, kvetchy take on
Pride and Prejudice.”
“Finally, a love story involving characters with grandchildren, Social Security checks, and membership in AARP! Her novel, set against a Jewish retirement community in Boca Raton, is both satirical and touching. Snowbirds in Florida will be glued to every page, but ‘Golden Girls’ everywhere are sure to get a big kick out of the book.”
—Jane Heller, author of
“Clever and fun.”
“Will amuse readers everywhere.”
“Cohen offers gimlet-eyed and uproariously funny critiques of everything from the significance of the color turquoise in Jewish home décor to the dynamics of trying on clothes at Loehmann’s.”
“Fun poolside reading.”
Palm Beach Post
For Gert, who laughed,
Ruth, who would have laughed
Although some of the settings in this novel are real, the characters and events described are fictitious.
JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA.
Copyright © 2002 by Paula Marantz Cohen. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Book Design by Jonathan Bennett
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cohen, Paula Marantz, 1953-
Jane Austen in Boca / Paula Marantz Cohen.—1st St. Martin’s Griffin ed.
ISBN 0-312-29088-8 (hc)
ISBN 0-312-31975-4 (pbk)
1. Boca Raton (Fl.)—Fiction. 2. Mothers-in-law—Fiction. 3. Jewish women—Fiction. 4.Widowers—Fiction. 5. Retirees—Fiction. I.Austen, Jane, 1775-1817. Pride and Prejudice. II.Title.
10 9 8 7
I would like to thank the following people for their advice on early drafts of the book: Ian Abrams, Rosetta Marantz Cohen, Alan S. Penziner, Gertrude Penziner, and Lauren Weinberger. I would also like to thank Albert DiBartolomeo for encouraging me to take the leap into fiction writing and Don Riggs for staging the Drexel University Writing Gala, in which the germ of this novel was first presented. Additional thanks go to my agent, Felicia Eth, who saw something in the earliest draft, and to my editor, Hope Dellon, at St. Martin’s Press, who guided me in shaping the book into its present form.
Take it from me. A nice widower with a comfortable
living can be nudged into settling down by a not-so-
young woman who plays her cards right.
Lila Katz to Flo Kliman and May Newman
RAFSTEIN IS DEAD!”
“Uh-huh.” Alan Newman nodded without raising his head from the stock market page.
“Hel-lo!” Carol Newman leaned toward her husband, her face, like a small, high-intensity lamp, positioned above the top of his paper. “Can I have your attention, please?”
He looked up.
“Listen to this—” Carol cleared her throat and read aloud crisply from her section of
The Star Ledger
: “ ‘Norman Grafstein, former owner of Grafstein Leather Imports, will be honored for his generous gift to the South Orange Beautification Committee in memory of his late wife, Marilyn. Grafstein, formerly of South Orange, now resides in Boca Raton, Florida. His son, Mark, of Scotch Plains will be present at the committee breakfast to receive the plaque in his father’s honor.’ ” Carol put the paper down and looked meaningfully across at her husband.
“So?” Alan responded.
“Did you know Norman Grafstein had lost his wife?”
“How would I know? I haven’t seen Mark since our last high-school reunion.”
Carol sighed. “Honey, don’t you get it?” She tapped a long, mauve fingernail on the table between them. “Norman Grafstein. Boca Raton. Your mother.”
“Carol, please …”
“Alan—” Her voice took the sharper tone generally reserved for their seven-year-old. “Do you want your mother to be
loved, to be happy, to have someone to take her to dinner? Why don’t you exert yourself? Call up Mark Grafstein, tell him you’re sorry about his mother”—she gave her hand a wave to suggest the routine preliminaries that would need to take place—“and tell him your mother’s in Boca. Arrange a meeting with his father.”
“Carol, my mother doesn’t want to meet anyone. She’s fine the way she is. Leave her alone.”
“She’s not fine,” countered Carol. “She’s miserable.”
Alan began to feel dizzy.
“You want her to be miserable”—Carol picked up a magazine and began to thumb through it—“let her be miserable.”
Alan shifted uneasily in his chair, anticipating defeat. It was possible to be irritated by Carol, but it was hard to oppose her for long. The fact was that she had a big heart—literally (the result of twice-a-week classes in high-impact aerobics at the JCC) and figuratively. Carol not only felt for the plight of others, she saw it as her mission to set things right for them. Last year, she helped the homeless in their town by organizing crisis career workshops and a low-fat soup kitchen in the library annex. The year before that, she raised math scores by 60 percent in the district by taking charge of the after-school homework program (even poor Jimmy Hahn, said to be ineducable, buckled down so as not to have her fingernail poked in his shoulder one more time). Carol was not one to sit idly by in the face of adversity, human weakness, and error. She was constantly striving to improve the lives of those around her, whether they liked it or not.
Alan vaguely understood that Carol carried a great weight of responsibility on her small shoulders. It fell to her to sustain that network of human relations called civilization—at least as it existed in the northern New Jersey suburbs. She was forever sending her friends to her hairdresser, passing the word about a new
caterer, and arranging large family gatherings that involved hunting down estranged cousins and convincing them to let go of the grudge they’d been holding for thirty years and attend. She had been committee chair of last year’s most successful event at their synagogue—an interfaith hootenanny in which Methodists, Baptists, and Jews, all wearing yarmulkes, crowded inside the cavernous blond-wood sanctuary, whose astronomical cost her herculean fund-raising efforts had helped pay for.
You could take one of two tacks upon finding yourself married to someone like Carol. You could resist and be caught in a debilitating struggle that you could not win. Or you could succumb and discover the pleasures of being managed by an expert.
Alan Newman, an accountant by profession, was a philosophical man. Life was hard. Life was short. He saw no point in swimming against the tide of this powerful and well-meaning force that was his wife. And so he succumbed and was, as far as such things are possible, happy.
EWMAN, WIDOWED FOR ALMOST TWO YEARS, HAD BEEN
living undisturbed in her Florida condominium until the day the previous spring when her son and daughter-in-law, arriving earlier than expected, had found her in her kitchenette in a housecoat. Alan had seen nothing noteworthy in this, but Carol insisted that it could only mean one thing: His mother was lonely and depressed.
“Any woman wearing a housecoat at two in the afternoon is depressed!” she declared. “And why shouldn’t she be?” she added when Alan attempted to argue on behalf of the comforts of a housecoat. “It would be more surprising, given the circumstances, if she weren’t!”
From then on, May’s case had been a theme in the Newman household to be picked up and examined at those odd intervals of the day or night when Carol found herself with nothing else to do.
“Your mother needs to move in with us,” Carol announced one night, just after Alan had fallen into the deathlike slumber that preceded his six A.M. wake-up to catch the early commuter train into the city.
“Wuh?” mumbled Alan groggily. He had been enjoying a dream of skiing down a mountain in Aspen.
“Your mother. It’s our duty to take her in.”
“Fine,” he said, rolling over to continue the downward run, the wind whipping at his face. He was in no mood to put up even the semblance of a fight.
But the next day, when Carol broached the idea with her mother-in-law, she was surprised to find opposition from this quarter.
“No, dear,” said May, “I’d rather stay where I am.”
“But Mom, you’d be happier with us. You’d get to see the children all the time.”
“I’m not sure the children would want to see me as much as that,” demurred May gently. And though Carol cajoled and bullied, May would not budge.
This left Carol with a definite challenge. If her mother-in-law were nearby, she could drag her to senior functions, sign her up for art appreciation classes, and take her on as an assistant to her own numerous charitable and community activities. But directing May’s social life from a distance of a thousand miles was another story. It required more elaborate intervention.
“Did you see the announcement about the senior bagels-and-lox brunch at the Reform temple?” Carol asked her mother-in-law over the phone as she ran her eye over the
spread out on the kitchen table (she had the paper expressed up so as to keep abreast for May’s benefit). “Go! You never know who you’ll meet.”