Sunday, December 4, 2011

Current Craving: "March"

No, not the month. For heaven's sake. March is such a lame month that I've been driven in the past to post stupid lists of Semi-Positive Things About It.

I'm talking about the novel, March, by Geraldine Brooks, a parallel story of Little Women from the parents' points of view. I had no idea it had won the Pulitzer in 2006 until tonight, or I probably wouldn't have read it. (There's a sticker on my library copy telling me so, but I missed that, too.) Many Pulitzer-winning books are not great reads from my point of view. I approach them warily.

Recent Pulitzer Fiction Winners Whom I Haven't Enjoyed
2010: Tinkers. Started with high hopes. Couldn't finish it.
2009. Oliver Kitteridge. Met my low expectations.
2008. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Meh.
2003. Middlesex. Too weird, couldn't finish it.
2002. Empire Falls. Like watching paint dry. Can't believe I finished it.
2001. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Loved by all but me, bleah.
2000. Interpreter of Maladies. Quite good, actually, but that was 11 years ago.

I hesitated to read March not because of my poor track record but because I didn't want it to color my relationship with Little Women. I love Little Women to the point where I think about moving to Concord and adopting four daughters. I've enjoyed Alcott's other books, stories, and essays, as well as biographies of her, and books about her circle. I didn't want to ruin things.

I had to remind myself that Wide Sargasso Sea — the story of Edward Rochester's mad wife before she was locked in his attic — didn't wreck Jane Eyre for me. It did change my experience of Jane Eyre in subsequent readings, but it was enriching and positive. (Nevertheless, I refuse to read any of then Jane Austen fan fiction that's been churned out in recent years. I've opened a few in bookshops and they all seemed stilted and ghastly.)

But March was highly recommended to me, so I reserved it at the library. After more than a week, I'm still reading it — it's one of those books that are so good that you ration the pages, reading the book more slowly than you'd like so it won't end too quickly, leaving you bereft. Those are best books.

Briefly, March is the story of Reverend Peter March, the shadowy father of the four March girls, who goes off to the Civil War in Little Women and is rarely heard from, even after he returns. When he is wounded in Brooks's tale, Mrs. March, or Marmee, picks up the narrative. Brooks's cleric is loosely based on Louisa's father, Bronson Alcott, although Mr. March is nutty than Bronson was. March has several similarly annoying qualities, but they are understated because he's telling his own story. Concord characters, including  Thoreau and Emerson, wander in and out of his life and his home, although most of the story takes place in the South, before and during the war.

It's beautifully written, well researched, creative, and intelligent, and it perfectly complements Alcott's story. The Amazon reviews will tell you a lot more if you're curious. But if you love Little Women, March is an early Christmas present from me.

1 comment:

  1. I share your "meh" for Oscar Wao.

    But I do not share you hate of March. Basketball! St. Patrick's Day! Spring! My birthday!

    All great things.



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