Saturday, August 18, 2007

2006: March by Geraldine Brooks -- Dewey's review

This is cross-posted at my blog.

Written Sunday, May 28th, 2006 9:50am

Title and author of book? March by Geraldine Brooks

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre?
Historical fiction, imitative fiction, parallel fiction.

What led you to pick up this book? I read Year of Wonders and loved it, so I was keeping an eye out for this writer to publish a new book.

Summarize the plot, but don't give away the ending! In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Mr March is absent; he's serving in Civil War as an army chaplain. Little Women is narrated by his daughter, Jo. This is Mr March's story, taking place in the same time that Little Women unfolds up north.

He starts off as an army chaplain, but then he's sent to teach freed slaves to read. About 2/3 of the way through the book, at the point in Little Women when Marmee is summoned because Mr March is in the hospital, the point of view changes from first person (Mr March) to first person (Marmee). Once he's better, the point of view reverts back to Mr March.

The story of Mr. March's earlier life is told in flashbacks, while he's at war.

What did you like most about the book? This is probably my favorite book of the past five years, so I loved nearly everything. I loved the writing style, the characters, and the way it tied in so well with Bronson Alcott's life and Louisa May Alcott's novel. I loved how absolutely nothing was black-and-white, cut-and-dried. Everything was filled with ambiguity.

Have you read any other books by this author? What did you think of those books? Year of Wonders was incredibly good. I haven't read anything else by Brooks, but I've put all her other books in my wishlist.

What did you think of the main character? The main character was done really well. Brooks clearly researched Bronson Alcott's life thoroughly. In the middle of reading, I started to suspect she'd based Mr March on Alcott, since Jo was based on Louisa May Alcott, so I read up on him, and it was obvious that he's the inspiration for Mr March. Then I read an interview with her which verified my assumptions. She'd even used his exact words in some of his letters, and used Thoreau's and Emerson's exact words, but taking them out of context. For example, she takes the passage about Flint's pond from Walden and has Thoreau say that to Mr March.

Any other particularly interesting characters? Marmee! She's fleshed out into a real person in this book, whereas she played a rather peripheral role in Little Women. First you learn about her from Mr March's point of view, and then, later, when she has her say, it's hilarious the way her perceptions of events are completely different from her husband's.

Share a quote from the book: "If there is one class of person I have never quite trusted, it is a man who knows no doubt."

Share a favorite scene from the book. In Little Women it's hinted that the Marches used to be wealthy, but now they're poor. And the only indication of how they lost their money was that they lent money to an untrustworthy friend and never got it back.

In this book, that story is fleshed out, using what the author knew of the Alcott family. We learn that the Marches financially backed John Brown and lost everything.

One of the best parts of that subplot is that March offers financial assistance to Brown because he thinks Marmee admires Brown, and he wants Marmee to admire him that much. But in reality, Marmee thinks he's an idiot for backing Brown (at least to the extent of losing all their money).

What about the ending? I loved the ending. March is back home (in Little Women he comes home at Christmas) but he's wracked with guilt over his experiences in the Civil War, and he's not sure how he's going to live with himself. He decides he'll just have to live with himself day by day, trying to come to terms with his guilt while at the same time trying to be a role model for his girls. I love that there wasn't some pat "The love of family will fix everything" ending, but at the same time, there was hope.


raidergirl3 said...

I like those questions as a way to review a book. I hope you don't mind if I borrow them to use some time.

Dewey said...

Not at all! I have a page on my blog where they're stored (the complete list -- I almost never use all the question) and it's there for anyone to borrow any time.