Book review: 'Emma' adaptation reshapes timeless tale with a fiery Mormon heroine

By Cait Orton

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Sept. 15 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"EMMA: A Latter-day Tale," by Rebecca Jamison, Cedar Fort, $16.99, 247 pages (f)

In Rebecca Jamison’s novel, “Emma: A Latter-day Tale,” a lonely, 20-something Emma is stuck in a rut. Her dream to become a life coach is constantly put on hold mostly by herself because she’s afraid to finish what she starts.

Her matchmaking record, on the other hand, is strong. After marrying off her best friend, she takes on the project of fixing up a friend with the Virginia town’s newcomer — a friendless, young nanny named Harriet. She sees it as a stepping stone in her journey to become a life coach, but with every goal she and Harriet set comes an array of misunderstandings and mishaps, ultimately leaving both Emma and Harriet brokenhearted.

First Emma tries to set Harriet up with Phil, the Elton of Jamison’s adaptation. He turns out to be shallow, cruel and thwarts Harriet from her journey to become a new person by shattering her self-esteem and self-worth. When Emma tries to fix the mess she created it rattles her own self-worth, and all the while her brotherly best friend watches and shakes his head at her follies.

Emma isn’t exactly the most qualified to be a life coach; her idea of coaching is giving a plethora of advice and steering Harriet in the direction she thinks is best, rather than what Harriet actually wants. It’s a storyline that resonates true to Jane Austen’s timeless tale, from which Jamison draws her inspiration and plot.

The story is as much about Emma as it is about her relationship with her friends, family and God. Her happy ending isn't without cost, humbling and a dose of her own medicine.

While many modern Emma adaptations simply follow Austen’s story without adding much of a twist, Jamison made the story her own. Her characters have fire, high standards and flaws to pick apart. Within each chapter, Jamison illustrates a lesson, whether it be about healthy body images, relationships, commitment or respect.

The pages are heavy with language and themes members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will love and appreciate, like deciding on whether to go on a mission, praying for answers and relying on faith and family. Emma’s strong character is resilient and independent, but her journey to better herself will resonate with any young woman.

But above all, Jamison’s incredible storytelling champions her characters and brings them to life. Each page is like a piece of furniture, strategically picked and placed to make the home whole.

"Emma: A Latter-day Tale" is of free of violence, swearing and sexual behavior and inuendos. While there are pockets of romantic tension, the physical relationships don't go beyond a kiss and holding hands.

If you go ...

What: Rebecca Jamison book signing

When: Monday, Sept. 16, noon-3 p.m.

Where: Costco, 3747 S. 2700 West, West Valley City

Web: www.rebeccahjamison.com

Also ...

What: LDS-apalooza signing with Rebecca Jamison, "Emma: A Latter-day Tale"; Sarah Eden, "Longing for Home" and "Glimmer of Hope"; Josi Kilpack, "Baked Alaska" and "Rocky Road"; Camron Wright, "The Rent Collector"; and Mandi Tucker Slack, "Tide Ever Rising"

When: Saturday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m.

Where: University Crossings Plaza, Barnes and Noble, 330 E. 1300 South, Orem

Web: barnesandnoble.com, www.rebeccahjamison.com

Also ...

What: Rebecca Jamison book signing

When: Saturday, Sept. 28, 9-11 a.m.

Where: Seagull Bookstore, Taylorsville Family Center, 5720 S. Redwood Road, Taylorsville

Web: www.rebeccahjamison.com

Email: orton.caitlin@gmail.com

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