Look closely at the title of Intimations of Austen by Jane Greensmith and let that be your guide as to the nine mostly short stories inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. Because these are not stories Austen would have written or at least not the stories she would have written for publications.
And maybe that is the defining thing about these stories: we see the toll that love has taken on these characters; we see the price they pay. In the The Three Sisters (MP), we see the price one sister has paid for her love of a sailor; in The Last Baby, (P&P) we get a glimpse into the conundrum that is the Bennet marriage; and in Heaven Can Wait (P&P/S&S) we see the dead hand of love that gives Jane Bennet a far more interesting backstory and a reason for Darcy’s perception that she does not exhibit the necessary ardor for Charles Bingley.
The first story of this collection—Rainbow Around the Moon (Pers)—is the saddest story and the story that instantly made me think of John Prine. It reminds us that the greatest love stories still inevitably end in death, only to be replaced by another love story. It is the way of things and this story is for those people who appreciate the last chapter of a biography.
The best and longest story Greensmith saves for last. All I Do imagines Pride and Prejudice without a happy ending (or not the happy ending we know), where Elizabeth and Darcy never marry. There have been several books that have done this but Greensmith goes beyond what most would dare in altering the trajectory of this love story.
In reading this story, I felt both belief and disbelief that Darcy would let his honor so stand in the way of happiness for him and Elizabeth; and it seems quite natural that Elizabeth would wonder whether his vaunted honor is an excuse. It’s also difficult to tell whether the extreme Elizabeth is prepared to go is a calculated—I hate to use the word ploy—gamble or a simple desperate act. Is she really willing to pay such a price to secure happiness for them? Any misgivings I might have in this story—is Darcy really this stupidly honorable?—are overcome by the ending that supplies the title for the story.
Intimations of Austen is not a perfection collection of stories. It is marred by being too short, referring not to the length of the stories but the number for I would enjoy reading more from this author. Most importantly, don’t read the title as Imitations as soon have done, for although the stories are inspired by Austen they definitely have a distinctive voice.