Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is one of the wonderful ones. This novel tells the story of the Cincinnati Bennett family when handsome, and very single, Dr. Chip Bingley comes to town. Chip’s just finished a season on “Eligible”, a familiar-sounding reality dating show based around girls competing for one, uh, bachelor.
Jane Bennet is thirty-nine-and-a-half and beginning fertility treatments with donor sperm, which is a perfect update for her character, and provides urgency for her storyline. One of the flaws of any modernized Pride and Prejudice is that we just don’t have the pressure to marry or spend adulthood as a sad spinster in some relative’s spare bedroom, and without that pressure, a lot of the story’s drama is forced. (The final section of the novel takes place on a special season of “Eligible” which makes the whole double wedding stuff make sense, and allows all kinds of hijinks. )
The other characters are updated well, too. Lydia and Kitty are really into Crossfit and nail art, while Mary sits in her room taking online classes. Mrs Bennet is a hoarder, with some problems around shopping, spending money, and actually having money to spend.
Even in the original text, Bingley’s main qualities are good manners, good breeding, and wealth, but here we see him struggling. Bingley’s a perfectly adequate doctor, especially for Mrs Bennet, who sees the trifecta of handsome, wealthy, and a doctor. But he isn’t fully happy in this role, or as a contestant on “Eligible” and has his own path to find.
Eligible would work as a standalone novel, even though Austenites will love the nods to the original text. There’s complexity and warmth in the family relationships, especially when the grown Bennet daughters come home to help out during their dad’s health scare, and the sisterly bond between Lizzie and Kitty, who do care for each other, but have nothing in common and definitely don’t see the world the same way.
Also, Mr. Darcy is hot. The end.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld will be published by Random House on April 19, 2016