Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publisher: Penguin Books
Length: 280 pages
When I first selected March for the HPB Humble Book Club, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was getting myself into. I knew two things: it had been on my TBR for quite sometime and it had been quite popular with private book clubs in the area. By the cover and Geraldine Brooks reputation, I assumed it was some kind of historical fiction and that it was most likely to be something I considered good. I had not yet discovered that it was the story of Mr.March while off at war and Marmee. I did not realize I’d be reading back story on characters I’ve loved my whole life.
Geraldine Brooks’ writing is impeccable, amazing. It should be, she won a Pulitzer for this incredible book. I love the story.
The problem is, I had an image of these wonderful people in my mind, an image I held onto for years and years. From the first time I read the book to the last time I re-read the book, through every movie adaptation, Marmee and Mr. March, though less present than the other characters, were pillars of perfect parenting, virtue, and strength. Brooks doesn’t take that away exactly, but she makes them so human it’s a bit disconcerting.
It’s like the first time you see pictures of your own parents at parties when they were young, before you were around. Or, the moment you come home at the proper time after prom to discover they are nowhere to be found and when you call them they are at some event you were unaware of, laughing and joking. In those moments you think, ‘Wow, they have a life.’ Marmee and Mr. March weren’t exactly having a party, most of the book is about the devastation of slavery and the civil war. Still, that moment you read about Marmee and Mr. March making passionate love in the woods before they were married, a tryst that resulted in Meg, you think: ‘No! I didn’t want to know that about them!’
At the same time, there’s something magical about the way Brooks has managed to weave a new tale from and into an old one. To take a small little quote about the girls missing their father who was so far away where the fighting was and turn it into a very distinct and unique piece of work, to read the telegram insisting Mrs. March go to her ill husband and have a whole life story revealed, it’s simply breath-taking and a bit of genius. It is all very excellent. It just isn’t what I had imagined for them myself.
Granted, many say Brooks based the story off of Louisa May Alcott’s own family life, as Alcott had written Little Women with the same background in mind. With that said, it stands to reason that Brooks book probably honors the author and her own imagination well.
Still, I go back to my eight year old self (the first time I read Little Women) every time I re-read the book. The magic of books is that they may always take you back to a moment, a bit of time in your life where your mindset was a certain way, the feeling you had the first time you read those lines… like a song that gives you chills decades after it has made you cry. Geraldine Brooks’ March, though beautiful and epic, doesn’t fit with my eight year old Little Women reading self. There’s a disenchantment there.
The book is a dichotomy that flusters me to my core. To love a book so much and to be equally indignant about it is frustrating.
I plan to read Eden’s Outcasts next. It is a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father.
There will be a meeting to discuss March at Half Price Books in Humble at 7:30 pm. Join us!