Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 2005
How I Found It: I became a Geraldine Brooks fan a few years back.
Date Completed: 7/15/16
Summary: While the Little Women lived and loved back at home, Captain Robert March exists far away on the battlefields of the Civil War. He doesn't arrive on the scene until late in the famous novel. Readers are given just pieces of his life away from his little women. Brooks' Pulitzer Prize winning novel has created and shaped his own history.
What I Thought: Since being introduced to Geraldine Brooks' work back when I was in grad school, I have been an ardent fan. I'm slowly working my way through more of her litany of work. This novel, her most recognized and lauded, was an easy next step for me.
I had been a bit hesitant to read it as I normally do not enjoy authors who build upon someone else's work, world, and characters. So many do it poorly. I'm not of the mind to respect canon and let the characters lie where the original author left them. Hence, you can understand my trepidation regarding a novel of which the entire premise is filling in the blanks for one of the most famous family's in American literature.
Yet, it's Brooks. I love her writing and she completely captured me with the two other works of hers I have read. And, March won the Pulitzer for Fiction. You cannot just ignore that. Particularly not if, as I, you have a loose ambition to read all the winners of that prestigious prize. So, trepidation tucked away, here we are.
At first, I struggled greatly to get into the book. Brooks opens with March on the battle lines, deeply entrenched in the Civil War. I always have a hard time with military literature. It fails to capture me for a lot of reasons, most of which I've talked about here before (few female characters, focus on action rather than character development, etc.). Even the great Brooks cannot avoid some of the issues I have which are inherent to the very nature of such a story.
Once she began to hop back and forth between March's current predicament and his history, however, things got more interesting for me. Suddenly, we were seeing young March encounter slavery and human cruelty for the first time. We see him meet and fall desperately in love with his wife, precious Marmee. We see them set up house and welcome their little women one by one. All of this is juxtaposed with his "current" story at war.
When March becomes ill and Marmee flies to his side (which Little Women fans will well remember), the role of narrator switches to her. This is where I really locked in. I loved this last third of the book. I enjoyed Marmee's voice as narrator much more than I had March's.
The book ends with March arriving at home to surprise his little woman on Christmas. Here, Brooks stops. After all, Louisa May Alcott took up the narrative from there. Brooks clearly only ever meant to fill in the missing pieces of March's time away from the family.
Though I did struggle to get through parts of this book and did not enjoy it as much as I have some of Brooks' other work, it was still well worth the read. My skepticism over the premise melted quickly and I found Brooks' handling of the beloved family to be tender and generous. I love how she added so much development to Marmee's character; there are many echoes of Jo in her here. Brooks obviously loves Alcott's original work and this book feels like a love letter to it. Even if you are unfamiliar with the classic, there is plenty here to enjoy for most any reader.
Quotes I Loved:
- "You must know that we in the South suffer from a certain malnourishment of the mind: we value the art of conversation over literary pursuits, so that when we gather together it is all for gallantries and pleasure parties. There is much to be said for our agrarian way of life. But sometimes I envy your bustling Northern cities, where men of genius are thrown together thick as bees, and the honey of intellectual accomplishment is produced. I would like to talk about books with you; do be kind enough to spare me an evening."
- "It is the habit of our species to despoil all we touch. Yet few see it so."
- "They branded him, Mr. March, the man I helped tonight. A human being, and they shoved a red-hot iron into the flesh of his face ...And we sit in our parlors, and talk, and do nothing, and tell ourselves that is enough." This particular quote feels so relevant to me in light of the world right now.
- "You cannot right injustice by injustice. You must not defame God by preaching that he wills young men to kill one another. For what manner of God could possibly will what I see here?" Amen, amen.
Will I Re-Read: Possibly
A Reduced Review: A nice re-imagination of one of America's favorite literary families and what happened to them off the pages of Alcott's classic novel.