March by Geraldine Brooks – Book Review

March by Geraldine Brooks
Published by Penguin

When I reread Little Women this year, one thing that stood out to me more than anything else was just how completely absent Mr. March was from the story. I actually found him more present during the section when he is away at war, because his absence and more of an effect on the lives of his daughters than did his presence. Who is this man who meant so much to his daughters when he was gone, but seemed to mean so little when he came back? Even Sallie Moffat has better character development than Mr. March! Where Louisa May Alcott leaves a hole, however, Geraldine Brooks steps in to fill it. March details Mr. March’s sojourn to the South as a young man, and his return as a chaplain with the Union Army during the Civil War.

The Mr. March of Brooks’s imaginings is a deeply flawed man. He lusts after other women, even after marrying Marmee, and is about the least comforting and inspiring chaplain in the history of chaplains. He’s so bad, in fact, that he is basically fired from this job and shunted to a different army post where he won’t annoy an entire company of soldiers. But not only is Mr. March flawed, Marmee is flawed as well! She’s very conflicted about her husband gallivanting off to war, and puts on a brave face for her daughters.

I know that some readers are very bothered by these no longer idealized characters of Mr. March and Marmee, but as a parent – and a human being – I found them incredibly reassuring. Who can live up to the example of Marmee in Little Women, really? She is ever good, right-thinking and right-feeling. Someone who does not worry about material goods but is quite content to make do. Yet, as Geraldine Brooks writes her, Marmee is human. She can be furious with her husband, frustrated at their situation, but continue to put on a show for her daughters so that they do not feel the depths of their poverty, so they do not worry overmuch about their father. This, people, is parenting. How much more a realistic role model she is now to everyone who reads her story.

Mr. March is perhaps not actually made to be more sympathetic and realistic in March, but he does harken back to Louisa May Alcott’s ACTUAL crazypants father, Bronson Alcott far more than the canonical Mr. March does, which makes him very interesting at least, and a good stepping stone for curious readers to learn just what Louisa and her family lived with.

Although some parts of March were so Bronson that I didn’t feel they quite fit into Little Women, I still really enjoyed where Brooks took the story. Recommended.

I read this book for the episode of my What’s Old is New podcast about Little Women.

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Dracula in Love by Karen Essex – Book Review

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex
Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House

As a maligned and psychologically abused child, Mina Murray has only ever wanted from her adult life is normalcy. She renounced her strange ways after being sent to boarding school and now it seems she may have achieved the normalcy she has always desired; not only has she had success as a teacher at her former boarding school, she is now engaged to the handsome young solicitor, Jonathan Harker. All is not as it seems with Mina, however. She has been dreaming incredibly sensual dreams, all of which involve a handsome, mysterious stranger, who Mina is certain she has seen somewhere before.

“Dracula” is a literary classic, but it is written entirely from the point of view of the men in the story. “Dracula in Love” is Karen Essex’s response to Stoker opus, told entirely from Mina’s point of view. Instead of remaining a cardboard cutout of the apex of Victorian womanhood, Essex’s Mina is a fully fleshed hotblooded woman. She yearns not only for the normalcy of marriage, but for the intimacies that accompany it. And even being engaged doesn’t keep her for lusting after her erotic dreams.

When people think about “Dracula,” they often forget just how much Stoker’s masterpiece is about sex, because it is disguised for Victorian sensibilities. But really, vampire myths are sex central: the penetration, the exchanging of bodily fluids. What I really appreciated about “Dracula in Love” is that Essex acknowledged how much the story was about sex and incorporated it into her story, without being needlessly salacious and graphic. It was really a very fine line to walk and people who are sensitive to sex in their novels may think that she’s taken it slightly too far, but I thought she achieved a very good balance.

A delightful re-imagining of “Dracula” and vampire lore with a strong female perspective. I loved Essex’s take on the vampire mythology as well. Highly recommended.

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This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
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