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RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT
Laurie Viera Rigler
Jane awakens to strange surroundings, not the bed of her manor but a small room with iron bars on the window and not a servant in sight. Her voice is unfamiliar and her reflection shapely but not her own. A young man enters from the adjoining room, and Jane finds that he has mistaken her for a woman named Courtney. She has never laid eyes on the stranger, Wes, before, and he tells her that she hit her head at the bottom of a swimming pool. Nursing a headache but certain that Wes is mistaken, Jane knows she is not this Courtney who has injured herself and forgotten her past, but is Miss Jane Mansfield. Her efforts to convince Wes concern him, so he calls her two closest friends, Anna and Paula, who of course Jane has never met.
Upon arriving, Anna and Paula quickly become as alarmed as Wes has been. All three insist on taking her to a doctor, and clothe her in garments that are shocking to Jane in their impropriety. They then push her inside the body of a strange carriage called a "car," which begins the surreal, illuminating ride that Jane's dream has been. She is seen by a physician who drugs her with some unpleasant pill, and when she awakes from an indistinct sleep, her situation is unchanged. Jane's more practical side kicks in gear, and she calms herself enough to become determined to make the best of the situation, or at least try to keep Courtney's friends from thinking she's gone mad.
Jane herself is much like the heroines of her favorite Jane Austen novels: charming, humble, kind and, yes, very proper when it's called for. She never, ever forgets what society expects of her. So it's disturbing for her to learn that Courtney was about to be wed to a questionable man named Frank but had called off the wedding just before hitting her head, apparently because Frank is a cheat. On actually seeing Frank, however, Jane is surprised to find that he still has some kind of hold on her, or at least on Courtney's body, because she can't seem to keep her eyes off him. She wonders immediately if Courtney has been spoiled in her courtship with this man. Even more disconcerting and exciting, Jane discovers that Wes is more completely alluring than Frank is. Wes saves the day when Courtney is in a pickle financially and helps Jane learn the ropes of using a computer and a phone, even finding a new job for her. He's handsome, kind, wealthy and an eligible bachelor.
On an outing with Frank and Wes, Jane runs into an old acquaintance of Courtney's, an Indian barmaid named Deepa. Jane instantly trusts Deepa and dares tell her who she really is within the impostor, nervously asking Deepa if she believes in reincarnation. Deepa is quiet yet seems convinced and leads Jane down the hall in the bar to the door of a psychic, an oddly familiar woman who resembles a fortuneteller Jane recently met at a fair in England. This strange lady warns her of the danger in judging others, particularly Courtney and her life. Her words are prophetic:
"Most of us walk through our daily lives as if we were asleep. We regard not what is before our eyes. We see not how we construct fantasies of our own and others' intentions without having the smallest knowledge of what we, or they, are truly about. We are all imaginists, storytellers if you will, and the pity is that none of us recognizes his sorry state."
The fortuneteller asks Jane to return only when she understands the meaning of those words and hints that understanding will come only by seeing in the present through Courtney's eyes.
So, as you might have guessed, there are revelations to behold and implications to consider in RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT. These revelations are Jane Mansfield's awakenings, and fittingly, they echo frequent themes of Jane Austen's literature: that imagination often takes the form of prejudice, that graciousness and respect come with their own rewards. But Laurie Viera Rigler's stories aren't meant to be taken all that seriously, and they are definitely not meant to be reproductions of Austen's novels (although they are always respectful of them.) CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT and RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT are clever parodies of the customs of 19th-century English socialites and modern-day Americans, and both books are absolutely uproariously funny. I laughed from the first page to the last, and I can imagine a great many other die-hard Jane Austen fans will do the same.
--- Reviewed by Melanie Smith