When Allegra Met Cathleen

When Allegra Met Cathleen

Novelists Allegra Goodman, above right, and Cathleen Schine, above left, had never met before The Jewish Week Literary Forum at Congregation Rodeph Sholom last Wednesday evening. But as they engaged in conversation with moderator/Jewish Week book critic Sandee Brawarsky — and each other — before a packed house of more than 250 people, it soon became clear they had a good deal in common.

Both have highly acclaimed new novels on the best-seller list that deal with sisters, family and love, and both authors acknowledged similarities to Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” in their most recent books.

Schine said that in re-reading the Austen classic, she was “struck by the fragility of women saddled by losing money,” which became a theme of her latest work, “The Three Weissmanns of Westport.” Goodman noted that when writing “The Cookbook Collector,” she also thought about the Austen’s themes and about “women who are not necessarily what they seem” to be.

The conversation was highlighted by the contrast of Goodman’s sunny disposition and Schine’s caustic wit.

When asked why she chose to write about families, Schine replied, “because they’re ridiculous,” adding “and funny and touching.”

In developing plot lines, she said she writes “quite a bit before I know” what’s going to happen, and at the end of her latest book “there was a rebellion, the characters said ‘no, we’re not going to do that.’”

Goodman grew up in Hawaii in a family that “valued humor and laughter,” and said that in high school she would write stories and read them to her mother, who loved to laugh.

“I thought everyone grew up like this,” she said.

The second and final Jewish Week Literary Forum of the summer will be held at Rodeph Sholom on Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. Sandee Brawarsky will moderate a conversation between Steve Stern, author of “The Frozen Rabbi,” and James Strum, whose graphic novel is entitled “Market Day.”

The event is free, but reservations are suggested at events@jewishweek.org.

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