Saturday, April 29, 2006

40. "March" ~ Geraldine Brooks

Mr. March, husband to Marmee and father to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, the forces behind Little Women, joins the Union army as chaplain and proceeds to follow a southern path to memories.

The author switches back and forth, from March's memories to March's war experiences. While we find how March met and married Marmee, we also get glimpses into the famous lives of Thoreau and Emerson. He is a cog in the wheel rolling toward a unified country, one free of slavery. In fact, he is so steadfast in his beliefs that he does not eat milk or cheese, rightfully owned by the cows.

After the battle for an island property, he realizes that he had been there before and is reunited with a slave whose downfall was March's doing in previous time. He beds her, remarkably quickly in his army stint, especially as chaplain, especially as devotee of Marmee and her passionate nature.

Later, his commander recommends that March remove himself. "A chaplain is supposed to comfort," he says, and March does nothing but aggravate his fellow humans with reproaches and unintended slights.

March is sent to a southern plantation, one that is taken over by a Northern lawyer. Here, the story begins to take shape... the experiences of teaching blacks to read and write and cipher, the fear of getting the cotton ginned before revolutionaries put it to blaze.

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. First, could it stand alone, without the tie-in to the Little Women? Perhaps it should have tried. This version of Mr. March is despicable in his cowardly actions; his only brave movements appear when he is trying to impress someone, either Marmee or the slave, Grace. It is not the hero that appears in Little Women.

Second, why doesn't he change? He goes from no wealth, seeing a slave whipped raw due to his failings, to wealth and life with Marmee and the girls, to poverty and his admission to the army. He writes Marmee lies about how he's doing, always choosing the best way to present himself, yet he does this in life, too. He never becomes honest with what has happened to him, to the other soldiers, or to those dependant upon him until the end of the book, and by then I was so annoyed with this wishy-washy pansy that I could care less. Luckily, the author chose to switch to Marmee's point of view at this stage, so I could be released from any more pandering.

An interesting, historical novel, but not, as one reviewer said, a book that "would make Louisa May Alcott proud."

2.75 out of 5.0 Blue Womans.

1 comment:

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