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March 7, 2011


Posted by Stephen

Cathleen Schine is the author of the critically-acclaimed bestseller The Three Weissmanns of Westport, now available in paperback. In this special blog post, she talks about her adventures on the promotion circuit, her fascination with hip hop and the inspiration for her bestseller. Visit for more information.

weissmanns.JPGAt my wedding, long ago, many years before my divorce, which was also long ago, so you can imagine how long ago my marriage was, my mother tried to get me to go onto the dance floor to dance the first dance with the groom. When I refused, being far too self conscious, she said, “You’re just a repressed exhibitionist.” Now all these decades later, I fear she was right. I have discovered this while on this latest book tour during which I have not only gotten up in front of hundreds of people but have actually told jokes as shamelessly as any Catskill comedian, if not quite as well. And so I fear that not only was I a repressed exhibitionist for many years, but that I have now graduated from that state to being, simply, an exhibitionist. Practice, it seems, makes perfect, and I have begun not only to engage enthusiastically in public speaking when in public, but also in private. I have begun to indulge in overly zealous dinner-party pontificating, blithe but tyrannical interruption of any one anywhere speaking about anything in order to speak about myself, and of course inserting my own anecdotes into anyone else’s narrative although mine are inevitably irrelevant to the subject. I have, in other words, come out of my shell.

Let me, therefore, tell you about my book! Because I’m no longer a repressed exhibitionist, I can’t wait to mention that The Three Weissmanns of Westport has just come out in paperback. Yes, it’s quite true, and being an ex-repressed exhibitionist, I am going to suggest that you may be interested to know how I came to write The Three Weissmanns of Westport, then, not waiting to see if you really are interested, I’m going to tell you! Now it’s true that I was asked to write this blog entry about whatever I want, not necessarily my book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, which has recently come out in paperback. But really what does that mean? Whatever I want? Maybe it means what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about a hip hop musician named Iyez. Do I really want to bore you with my new obsession with hip-hop, a kind of music I have for decades associated with loud thumping coming from passing cars while wondering why they couldn’t their windows? Music on which I myself slammed the doors of my kids’ rooms for years and years? Do you want to hear about my weird middle-aged conversion to Lil’ Weezy? I didn’t think so. I could tell you what I’m reading, now that I’ve kicked my four-month mystery addiction. The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam, which is every bit as exquisitely written as her last novel, Old Filth. Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, a magnificent book, my favorite novel of one my favorite writers. Just finished those. Just started Insignificant Others by Stephen MacCauley, a writer I’ve never read before, but I heard him speak and he was so charming and witty that I got his new novel, and I’m not disappointed. I could tell you about those books, but I think I’ll talk about…myself!

And The Three Weissmanns of Westport, which was inspired by Sense and Sensibility. You know --- that novel by one of the greatest novelists of all time? I was trying to figure out how to write about love between adults, people of a certain age, not people in their twenties or thirties, but grownups who already had a history of love and disappointment, a history that had become part of who they were, a history they could not shed even when falling in love again. And, thought I, we do fall in love and it’s every bit as wrenching and thrilling as the first crush of any of those callow youths we all used to be. So I was letting these thoughts rattle around in the old noggin and I was reading Sense and Sensibility for the millionth time. Luckily my memory is so bad that it only takes a few months, maybe a year, and I can go right back to a book, read it and turn the pages as fast I can to find out what happens next. I finished Sense and Sensibility, as surprised and satisfied as I am each time I read it. But I did have one new layer to my reaction. This feels so modern, I thought. Why is that? This is a book whose premise is an antique English inheritance law, one that left Mrs. Dashwood and her two young daughters utterly destitute. It’s a novel that examines the place where love, money and marriage intersect. Very nineteenth century. And then I thought, these women were all so financially vulnerable. And then I thought, financially vulnerable women … divorce … older women … women of my mother’s generation who are suddenly left by husbands of 30, 40 years … women who were encouraged not to work, encouraged to become perfect housewives … And then I thought, This is the book I want to write. And so I wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, which is about a 75-year-old woman named Betty who is divorced by her 78-year-old husband of almost 50 years. Betty and her two middle-aged daughters was up in a dilapidated beach cottage in Westport, Connecticut (which is where I grew up, by the way --- in Westport, not in a dilapidated beach cottage) and try to start over. 

But let’s get back to my new outgoing self. I have learned many things in my new life of self promotion, but perhaps the most important is that sometimes, on a telephone interview that is being broadcast live on an important public radio station, when your dog starts barking and screeching at a helicopter that hovers so low over the house you feel you might be being evacuated from Saigon and you scream in your worst fish-wife voice to your girlfriend “Get the dog!!!” and she screams back “I can’t! I’m on the toilet,” well, that self-promotion, even by the least repressed of exhibitionists, is not always all it’s cracked up to be. And that perhaps it is time I crawl right back into my shell.