Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I rarely buy books. This is true for several reasons, but if I'm ever missing, you'd have a much better chance at finding me by looking in library rather than a bookstore.
However, last month, for Blogger Bookclub, we had a book exchange and I found myself in a bookstore perusing the shelves. First of all, I could quickly change my borrowing ways if I were forced to walk through a bookstore every day. I loved it! So many rectangular shapes that wanted to be slid off shelves and bent open. I found myself off task and reading the jackets of many a book.
Which is precisely how I found this gem. Booksellers tend to pimp their bestsellers by displaying their front covers as opposed to the binding, making it easier to catch the buyer's eye. Right at my eye level was the book Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I surmised that it was about the plague and while that wasn't the type of story I was looking for, placed right next to it was Brooks's second, and equally acclaimed book: March, a 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner.
It is the story of Peter March, the absent father of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth of Little Women. Much more up my alley, I replaced Year of Wonder back on the shelf and walked around with March until, ultimately I found an altogether different book and placed March back on the shelf too (I ended up walking out with The Emporer's Children, which I have yet to read.)
Not forgetting about my interest for March, I used my old-faithful-tried-and-true method of attaining books and placed a hold for the book from the library.
I think I should have bought it. It's a great book. Clever, poignant, informative, inspiring, heartbreaking, interesting and historical, Brooks takes Louisa May Alcott's famous Little Women, and writes a parallel story about their father's experience during the same year. Little snippets are taken from Little Women, and it's as though you can see that famous play happening in the background in each scene. Sort of like Wicked and The Wizard of Oz, only more serious and important. After all, Peter March wasn't out flying on a broom, he was trying to serve the Union troops in the United States own Civil War.
Brooks bases Peter on Alcott's own father's journals, just as Alcott based her Little Women on herself and her sisters. Bronson Alcott, and his fictional representative, Peter March, are part of the intellectual elite who reside in Concord Massachusetts alongside their contemporaries, Walden, Thoreau, Hawthorn and Brown, who each make an appearance in the story. Idealistic abolutionists with Quaker leanings, March leaves his family to support the union's cause to end slavery and finds great conflict between his inner values and his outward actions.
Brooks writes exclusively in the first person and as a result, I, the reader, was able to understand Peter March as he was, as he wanted to be and as he failed to be. He is a fantastic character. My only complaint with the book is that she abandoned Peter for a few chapters and wrote as Marmee, his wife, when he lay sick with fever. She eventually returns to Peter's voice, which gives the story the resolution it needs, and while Marmees' thoughts are equally moving and necessary, it made the ending a little choppy.
Despite that lack of continuity, I enthusiastically recommend March. It will force you to examine your own viewpoints about war, education, race, marriage, courage, pride and love.