Saturday, March 5, 2011

March - Book Review

I read March right along with Little Women...and then as I fnished Little Men.
While the father of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy is more in the background of Little Women, his experiences take the forefront in March.  

This was my first Geraldine Brooks historical novel and I am hooked...her style of writing and attention to historical detail had me from the very beginning.
Brooks spent a lot of time researching Bronson Alcott's journals and the journals of men who served during the Civil War.  Even though Alcott himself never served in the Civil War, Brooks transported a man of March's ideals into war and comes out with a believable look at how even the most idealistic man could be changed and/or confused by the realities of the world.

We meet March as a young peddler who yearns for books and education and sees the world through rose colored glasses.
He meets hot-headed Marmee through his friendships with Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne, falls in love with her and marries her.  He is attracted to her independence and free thinking, yet he immediately begins to try and calm her. 
1st strike

Through March's own words we learn of March and Marmee's early lives and their comfortable home and nestegg they built...and then, through foolish investments, namely one particular donation to John Brown and his Harper's Ferry business, March loses his fortune.
Marmee quietly begins the hard work of her life, the one which we are most familiar through the classic, Little Women.  She and her daughters run their household, take jobs outside the home and bring in any meager income they can...while their father is out saving the rest of the world
2nd strike

As more and more young men are called to war, March preaches non-violence but ends up getting caught up in the excitement of patriotism and volunteers to leave his family to stand beside the men on the front lines as a pastor.
Marmee is incredulous...but remains silent.
Marmee also remains silent while March sends letters home that sugar coat his experiences.  The horrors he witnesses and the memories he revisits are too unbelievable to share with her and he is changed forever.  Such is war.  He begins to doubt what he has always stood for and the purpose of life...and he begins to whine incessantly. 
3rd strike...he's out!

By the time March finds himself sick with fever and Marmee has to leave Concord to come to his bedside in Washington, she ends her silence and becomes the narrator.  She expresses her frustration and disappointment in this man, the head of her household, who has let her down in many ways, some of which catch her completely off guard.  I was soooo glad to hear Marmee's voice by this time.  I was more than a little weary of March's whining. 
I feel like I should apologize for calling March a whiner.
But I'm not going to.

Marmee was affected by the things she learned about her husband that were usually considered "protected information"...most women would never be privee to their husbands past relationships nor would a wife ever confront "the other woman."
Most women would simply "pretend" they had no knowledge of such things.
Not Marmee.
There are obviously things about March and Marmee's relationship that were never portrayed in Louisa May Alcott's novels, particularly the passion they feel for one another early in their relationship.  In Little Women Jo's temper is the one that causes conflict; after reading March I realized that "the apple didn't fall far from the tree."  I liked that though...
Takes one hothead to recognize another ;)   

Brooks' novel is an important one...the romantization of war vs the reality is a message that should be repeated nonstop.  Brooks' descriptions of the almost prehistoric war hospitals, surgeries and treatment of injured soldiers will make you wince.  I don't think you have to be an Alcott fan to appreciate March.  There is more than enough information about the characters for you to get to know them even if you've never heard of Little Women.  (By the way, who are you and what planet did you just arrive from ;)  However, I am an Alcott fan and I was surprised at how much my perspective changed...I now realize how much Louisa May Alcott did NOT talk or write about her father...and I wonder if some of the personality issues that plagued me also were an issue for her.  I've got a couple of biographies that I'm going to delve into next to get even more background information. 

If you are a fan of books about the Civil War or Louisa May Alcott, this is a must read.


  1. I have never read Little Woman - I don't know how I missed it - but I recently bought a copy and plan on reading it soon. I'm looking forward to it!

  2. I didn't enjoy Little Men as much but I really loved Little Women. American Lit is my favorite...

  3. Thanks for the review. I have Little Women on my list for this year..... I hope I get to it!

    That was a sweet post about your husband. I hope he read it.

  4. I really enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' two other books - People of the Book and The Year of Wonders and loved both of them. March is definitely one on my must read list!