|Cathleen Schine, photo by James Hamilton|
Cathleen Schine's novels include She is Me, The New Yorkers, and, most recently, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Cathleen Schine's new novel, Fin & Lady, will be available in July.
Q: Why did you choose Sense and Sensibility, rather than another Jane Austen book, to update?
A: It never occurred to me to go anywhere near any Jane Austen book, except as a reader. It would be presumptuous, I think we can all agree on that! So it was accidental.
One of the greatest gifts I have been given as a reader is a terrible, terrible memory. So…I get to read wonderful novels like Sense and Sensibility over and over again, and I never know what’s going to happen next. It is always a fresh, illuminating experience.
After one of these readings of Sense and Sensibility, I was struck by how modern it seemed. I pondered the oddity of this early 19th century novel feeling so relevant in this, the new millennium, and not just because the characters, with all their dreams and worries and passions and petty obsessions, are so recognizable as the people we’re all surrounded by, but because of something structural: the link between money and marriage. Except, in our modern world, the link is at the other end of the process: between money and divorce.
I had been trying to think of a way to write about adults – meaning middle-aged, even elderly people – in love, and the whole thing just came together at that moment. I thought I would refer to Sense and Sensibility every once in a while, that it was an inspiration, but I got more and more involved with Austen’s book as I wrote. When I read, I think of it as a deep and intimate conversation, and writing The Three Weissmanns of Westport turned out to be an even deeper, more intimate conversation.
Q: What do you make of the continuing fascination with Jane Austen and her work, and what influence do you think she's had on your own writing (even before The Three Weissmanns of Westport)?
A: The obsession with Jane Austen began long before the movie Clueless, which I love, or the recent craze of Austen inspired genre novels. Rudyard Kipling, of all people, was an ardent Janeite. He wrote a short story about a group of soldiers in World War I who were Janeites: “There’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight spot.” She is intimate, unsentimental, and her tight focus makes her somehow timeless. I’m with Kipling.
Q: Dogs play an important role in your previous book, The New Yorkers. Do they play a big part in your life, too?
A: Yes, I’m one of those people who stops every dog on the street and talks to it and pets it and lets it jump on me while the owner pretends to try to stop it. We got a dog right before September 11, 2001, and I was in New York during that time. Walking the dog, having to walk the dog no matter what, especially during such an emotional time, re-introduced me to my own city.
When I wrote The New Yorkers, I needed comfort. I thought, Why not write the kind of book you want read? So, yes, there are a lot of dogs in it. I also wrote a piece about Buster, the vicious, hopeless, dear monstrous little dog we had then, for The New Yorker. For the last ten years, we have had a jolly Cairn terrier. About half my facebook friends are cairn terrier people. So, yes, I’m a nutty dog lady. I would be a cat lady, too, but I’ve gotten too allergic.
Q: Do you have a particular favorite among your books or characters, and why or why not?
A: I really don’t have a favorite book. In some moods, I am very satisfied with a particular book, in other moods I think it is drek. I have a number of mother and grandmother characters in my books, and I do love them. I get very attached to minor characters, too, perhaps because they are usually the most comic.
Q: What can you tell us about your new book, which is coming out later this year?
A: It’s called Fin & Lady and it’s coming out in July and the first thing I can tell you is that it has a fantastic cover! Very groovy! It’s set in the sixties in Greenwich Village, mostly, and the island of Capri in Italy. It’s about a boy named Fin who is orphaned at the age of 11. His rather wild 23-year-old half sister, Lady, becomes his guardian.
It’s about their relationship, about what a family really is and how that idea changed during that period and how it didn’t, about love and how that changed during that period and how it didn’t, about freedom and responsibility and books and music and toy soldiers and the Village and there is a collie dog in it.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m preparing a completely random list of annotations for Fin & Lady, linking words from the book to various you tubes and web pages and photos and blog posts. I’m not sure where I’ll put it. Probably on my blog. I have a blog. But I am not a blogger. Once every three months is timely for me. So maybe this list, which I am increasingly obsessed with, will fill that vast online communication gap!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb