I love Little Women. It’s one of those dear books that is all sweetness and light, and even its most tragic moments are filled with grace. March is a horse of a different color.
Based on the experiences of Mr March, that ever-absent father to whom the ‘little women’ are always sending packets of letters and mended clothing, March is more deeply concerned with the harsh realities of the civil war. A vegetarian pacifist (?) in his middle years, Mr March nonetheless sets out to chaplain himself to death – or at least very near. Brooks follows his many ill-fated escapades in the war-riven South, flashing periodically into the past to fill in March’s backstory, including his liaison with a stately slave woman (scandalous! Or did he? Or didn’t he? I’ll never tell…).
Some men write women very well. And some women (I imagine…I can’t think of a good example) write men very well. Geraldine Brooks just isn’t one of those women. There is something consistently off about Mr March’s voice, and it isn’t just that he’s a pacifist vegetarian. It’s that he sounds like a woman. Not like ‘a woman’ in the general sense, but like a specific woman. About two thirds into the novel, the point of view changes from Mr March’s to his wife’s, but THE VOICE DOESN’T CHANGE A BIT! Mrs March is just as unfortunately prosy as her husband, but it sits better on her. A little. Not at all.
I found myself slogging through most of this novel. A well-written book, even if it tramps all over my favorite fictional characters, will still bring me willingly and furiously along for the ride. A shoddy book, even if it shines more light on all those fake people I love so much, is a waste of time.