Happy last day of May, y’all!
Can you believe how fast this month has gone? I certainly can’t, especially since my baby is turning one in June. WHAT?! It’s been too fast!
I’m sneaking in one more review before June: March by Geraldine Brooks. Her novel won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize and intrigued me because it follows the untold story of the father from Little Women. I’m not quite sure what to make of this book.
I absolutely love Little Women. In fact, it was one of my first reviews here on my blog (almost) 3 years ago?! I read Little Men and Jo’s Boys this year as well as Invincible Louisa, the Newbery winning biography of Louisa May Alcott. So I have her stories in my mind lately.
I loved the potential of this story. But I must admit that I was disappointed.
- The book started really intriguing for me. And the writing is stunning. But it kind of just kept going downhill for me as I read further.
- There are some very intense, extremely graphic violent and racist moments in this novel. Be aware of several very dark, graphic moments with former slaves and women/children. Those were hard for me to even read. I’m not sure I would even want my teenagers reading this without proper context about the American Civil War and slavery.
- I think Civil War fiction is like WWII fiction for me. I can’t read more than one novel about this time period in a row because they can be dark, intense, and sad. I had to put The Underground Railroad back on my TBR for a bit for when I’m reading to experience another intense novel about slavery.
- Also, has anyone seen the new PBS Little Women adaptation? I haven’t yet but I am excited to see what they do.
March by Geraldine Brooks chronicles the untold story of Mr March from Little Women. Goodreads summarizes, “As the North reels under a series of unexpected defeats during the dark first year of the war, one man leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause. His experiences will utterly change his marriage and challenge his most ardently held beliefs. Riveting and elegant as it is meticulously researched, March is an extraordinary novel woven out of the lore of American history. . . . Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war, leaving his wife and daughters to make do in mean times. . . . In her telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near mortal illness, he must reassemble his shattered mind and body and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.”
I disagree with the idea that March is completely absent in the original stories. Yes, in the first part of Little Women, he is absent. But then he returns. And he is present with his family. We get glimpses of him throughout the series that I really love. He has conversations with Jo about her school for boys. He teaches in the college that Laurie founds in Jo’s Boys. He loves his family and connects especially with Jo’s husband, Fritz Bhaer. He is dynamic and vibrant, if still not central to the plots of those novels. I was disappointed that a shift to that type of character wasn’t explored in this novel.
I had a hard time connecting with the main character, Mr. March, because he didn’t seem to fit the original story. Brooks did a lot of meticulous research in writing her novel. But while March is very reminiscent of Bronson Alcott (Louisa’s father), I don’t think his intense idealism and crisis of faith fits the father of Little Women. His extreme religious and political views were more annoying than ennobling. I didn’t like how the March’s marriage was made out to be a lie and lacking good communication. And I hated what March became. He didn’t practice what he preached. He seemed determined to hate himself and his family. What would have been more meaningful and intriguing is how he rose above the evil, tragedy, and horror around him. But he doesn’t. And that was disappointing and a bit depressing.
The plot is engaging and intense. It drew me in from the first chapters. Getting a backstory on a character from a beloved novel is always an exciting prospect. I learned a lot about the civil war, a time period I have not read much about. I even was pleasantly surprised by the switch in narrators to Marmee for a bit in the middle. But the plot got less intriguing and more dark and disappointing as it went along. There were several moments that were too intense for me and far too graphic for me as well. I was disappointed that we didn’t get more about the mainstream Civil War battles. The ending was too abrupt as well. For me, it ruined a beautiful reunion from Alcott’s work. And I did not like the subplot with Grace and the almost affair. That felt like a cop out because it’s not very original. And I just don’t think the Mr. March I know from Alcott’s books would do that.
Perhaps what bothered me most is that the themes and tone of the novel are not true to Alcott’s story and style. Yes, there is hardship and tragedy in her stories. The March family is not immune to heartache, loss, and pain. Things don’t always work out for them. Characters die too young. Some make mistakes. Some suffer disappointments and others financial struggles. But her characters learn how to rise above it. They learn how live with their grief and find joy amidst the sorrow. Mr March doesn’t do that here. And that makes all the difference to me.
I can appreciate why March won the Pulitzer. It’s a beautifully written book and the plot is complex and emotionally powerful. But for me, it is not true to Alcott’s world and her characters. So I was disappointed by it.
What are your favorite Civil War novels?
And you think modern authors can add stories to classics successfully?