Saturday, January 12, 2008

March


Due to my recent anything-that-has-to-do-with-Louisa-Alcott obsession, my mum found a novel at the library that she thought I might be interested in. It was called March by Geraldine Brooks, and it told the story of Mr. March from Little Women who, as you may remember, we see very little of.

Well, it was very deep, rich, and enthralling. I was reading some of it during down time at work, and one of my coworkers said something to me and I didn't hear a blessed word she said.

Ms. Brooks' presentation, word choice, and description was very Alcott-esque. She introduced Mr. March as an eighteen year old peddler and up and Marmee as a hot-headed, passionate young woman who takes part in the underground railroad. Ms. Brooks shows the coming-to-be of the March family and their woes (as well as a little bit of background on why Aunt March is such a cross-patch). It's an involved story that weaves Civil War history with slavery woes and other issues of the day.

For example, Mr. March (a chaplain) gets sent to a contraband camp, which is basically a place where they keep the slaves they've liberated so that they can work the cotton crops. He teaches the once-slaves how to read and write until some Confederates come and set fire to everything and take all the slaves away. Even then, that ends up with a heart-wrenching conclusion that made me cry/laugh hysterically (and I never cry when I read).

Also, do you remember the part where Mr. March gets sick and Marmee is sent for? Marmee goes on the trip to find Washington D.C. in gross conditions, and the hospitals fair no better.

My personal favorite part is when it tells how the March family helps runaways on the underground railroad. There's one part when a pregnant young woman comes to hide and has to be laid up for a while because she's in such a frail condition. She's quiet and shy, and Beth makes friends with her. Beth even flat-out lies to a constable who comes and storms the house, looking for the slave, a feat that made me laugh out loud, even though I was at the DMV and people looked at me like I was crazy.

My only complaints were that Marmee and Father had, um, pre-marital relations in one part. It wasn't explicit (on the contrary, it was very subtle), and he did go the very next morning and ask her father for her hand in marriage, but I didn't like it all the same. Even if that's how Louisa had in mind for their romance, she didn't write it, so I don't feel like it was a necessary part of the story.

Another part I didn't agree with was a subplot that struck a sour note. Mr. March fell in love with a slave when he was a peddler, and he meets up with her again when he's being a chaplain. The author spends entirely too much time on that by-way. It also results in some jealousy from Marmee, which brings me to my next point...

Ms. Brooks portrays Marmee perfectly as a young woman. She shows her temper, her accomplishments, and her loveliness in a way that's easy to imagine. My favorite part is when she's learning to curb her temper because she bursts out with these completely passionate, cutting words that I found both amusing and awe-inspiring.

However, at one point in the novel (when she goes to Washington), the story is told from Marmee's view. She just didn't ring true to me. Gone is the strong, wise woman that everyone loves when reading Little Woman. This Marmee is jealous, she's weak, and she never talks about God. She resents Mr. March for stifling her temper, she resents him for leaving her and going off to war, and she doesn't show any of the inner strength for which I admire the true Marmee.

I understand that she's under a lot of pressure. I understand that people are not always the same on the inside as they are on the outside. She does talk about her love for Mr. March and her daughters. However, for the real, outside Marmee to work as well and cope as well as she did, the inside one couldn't be like Ms. Brooks portrayed her. She could have her weaknesses, which we all have. She could very possibly have resented Mr. March for going off to war, but there is no way in heck she could have buoyed up the girls like she did if she had resented it that much.

All in all, March was a cleverly written, spell-casting story, but I believe that I'll stick with the original, with all due respect.

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