Monday, May 28, 2012

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees — 384 pgs

In this interesting and enigmatic fictional account, the reader embarks on a journey through the life of one of the world's most loved authors, Louisa May Alcott. After landing in a spot of financial difficulty, the Alcott family has just moved into a deserted cabin owned by a friend in Walpole, New Hampshire. The family, which consists of four girls and their parents, are no strangers to domestic disturbance and poverty, due to Mr. Alcott's refusal to engage himself in gainful employment. Though his family disagrees, Mr. Alcott feels it is his duty to shun all material pleasures, focusing instead on his philosophical interests, a behavior which Louisa in particular finds abhorrent. As the family becomes immersed in their new surroundings, Louisa meets the local merchant's son, Joesph Singer, who immediately takes a curious interest in her. Louisa's only dream is to escape her family and move to Boston, where she hopes to have success as an author; so this new attention by Joseph Singer is not only unwelcome but strongly rejected by her, a fact that doesn't deter the young Mr. Singer in the least. Louisa grows more adamant and resistant to the charms of the young man but finds herself curiously drawn to his bright mind and eager advances. When Joesph finally begins to get past Louisa's prickly exterior, the two find themselves enamored of each other and ready to take their relationship to the next level. But then an unforeseen hinge drops a door on the couple's new-found happiness: Joesph may not be free to promise himself to the woman he loves. Louisa, for her part, struggles mightily between her desires for Joseph and her dream of a new life as a successful writer in Boston. The young lovers find themselves in the midst of a confusing and troubling set of events that threatens to overtake their dreams of the future. In this touching and reverent tale, the life of Louisa May Alcott is re-spun and re-imagined into a tale of deep love and disappointing heartbreak.

I know it's a terrible thing to admit, but as of yet, I have not read Little Women. Oh, I’ve always planned to, but I’ve never made the reading time to invest in this classic of literature, despite all the glowing things I’ve heard about it. I had initially been a little skeptical about reading this book, and figured that having not read Little Women, this tale would surely fly right over my head. I was pleased to discover that this was not the case, and found myself very interested and absorbed in this fictional account of Alcott's life.

I have to say that this portrayal of Louisa was very eye-opening. For most of the story, she’s quite aloof and bad-tempered. I might even say that she bordered on rude at times, which made me feel a little distanced from her character. I think the real reason for her coldness was her intense desire to leave everything behind and embark on her writing career, which, by necessity kept getting shoved to the back burner time and time again. She was a very spirited heroine, but most of her drive came in the form of gruff proclamations and retorts about the dissatisfaction of her life. Joesph was truly in for a hard time when he set his sights on her, because it seemed that she had no time for love and affection and would rather spend her time in pursuits of the mind. I think that’s what finally cracked her shell in regards to the young man. When she discovered that he, too, longed for intellectual companionship, a bond between the two was formed, with eagerness on both sides.

I had a hard time with Louisa's father, Bronson Alcott. I thought it was extremely selfish that he would not work to support his family and basically left their fates to the mercy of friends and acquaintances. It was frustrating to see the women of the house working endlessly to keep things going while he spent most of his time reading in his study or entertaining philosophical debates with his friends. When the girls and their mother objected to his laziness, he would begin to spout off rhetoric about leaving himself free to entertain the world of the mind and would object to doing even basic work for his family's sustenance. I’m actually surprised that the family fared so well because it must have been tiring for his friends to always have to come to their rescue. Bronson was by turns arrogant, shiftless, and distant, which really frustrated me. I do believe that these parts of the story were based on historical fact, and as I was reading, I imagined that living under his rule must have been horrific at times. In a roundabout way, Louisa's behavior towards her work sometimes mirrored her father's, for she was endlessly pursuing creativity at all costs.

The love story between Joseph and Louisa felt very organic to me, and it formed the majority of the plot. At first, I was very upset that Louisa kept denying the young man, but when the battle was finally won, the progression of the love story seemed that much sweeter. One of the main things that caused distance between the two was Louisa's fierce drive for independence. Nothing else mattered to her, and it took tremendous effort on the part of Joseph to make her see another way. I really liked Joseph and thought that his courting of Louisa was almost regal in its sincerity. He was doggedly persistent in his courtship, which made me hold him in high regard. As the story wound toward its conclusion, I found that I was getting upset with Louisa's staunch attitude of defeat when it came to their love. It could have been so much easier than she was making it for the two of them! But Louisa was Louisa, and this was not to be.

The dramatic turn at the conclusion of the story was heartbreaking. Just when all was going well, things took a turn, and I was saddened by the fate that the lovers gave into. For Louisa, things went on as she had planned, but there was a lot of hurt along that path. It seemed that circumstance coupled with Louisa's desire to be free was the stronger of the imperatives. But lest you think I spoiled the book for you, there was much that was unforeseen in the conclusion of this story. Just when you think things are going to be played out in one direction, an unexpected turn is divulged. The door between the lovers does not close as abruptly expected.

I got unexpectedly caught up in this book and think that the author did a wonderful job of making her characters well rounded and sympathetic individuals. The story had a lot of immediacy, which is funny to think about, considering it occurred such a long time ago. The author admits that the love story portrayed here is a work of fiction, as are other aspects of the tale, but questionable gaps in the record of Alcott's life may lead the reader to believe that this story may not be all that far-fetched. I definitely think that those readers who have enjoyed Alcott's body of work would do well to pick up this book, and for those who have not read anything by the author, do not fear! There’s enough grist in this story for it to stand alone beautifully. It was a very interesting read, and I’ll be doing my best to start giving Alcott's work the attention that it deserves!


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

23 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh, Bronson was something else, wasn't he? I think he was pretty much like that in real life too. You can see why Louisa wanted to get away so badly. I love Little Women and really liked this book too.

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Zibilee, Hi!
I loved Little Women, but haven't read anything else by Alcott. I'm confused, is this book biographical, semi-biographical, or is it downright fiction?
Either ways, it sounds fascinating!

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Audra said...

Great review -- I am deeply possessive of Louisa Alcott -- she's one of my all-time favorite people in the history of ever -- so I tend to shy away from fiction about her because I'm so particular. However, you've so intrigued me with this one -- it sounds like a fantastic book. (I hate Bronson with my whole body!)

If you do pick up Alcott's fiction, consider pairing her classics -- like Little Women -- with her potboilers -- like A Long Fatal Love Chase.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think I would be too mad at Bronson to make it through this. And I too don't think anyway that I have read the actual book although I've seen the movie! :--)

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I too am a lover of Little Women :) and a disliker of Bronson Alcott :p Have you read March by Geraldine Brooks?

Jenny said...

I haven't read Little Women either! I started it a few times but never got far. I do enjoy this book though!

Suko said...

Wonderful review, Zibilee! You are always insightful and a marvelous reader (and writer)--reading Little Women after reading this book would be a great pleasure for you, I think. I read The Lost Summer two summers ago, and enjoyed it as well.

Harvee (Book Dilettante) said...

I think I'll have to reread Little Women before trying this book, just to refresh my memory, although it does sound like a stand alone novel. The ending does sound intriguing.

Aarti said...

I admit that this book really doesn't interest me. Not because of the plot (and certainly not because of this review!), but because I just never really loved Alcott's stories, and so I don't really care that much about Alcott's life, either, to read a fictionalized account of her :-)

Jenners said...

Is this historical fiction or a biography or what? I was never quite sure about that. And you MUST read Little Women. It is soooo good. Of course, I read it when I was a "little women" but I just can't imagine you won't be as charmed by it as I was. I just love how each sister has her own distinct personality.

Lisa said...

The marvelous thing for me about this book was how well McNess blended fact and fiction. Bronson Alcott really was a terrible parent & husband; his ideals only seemed to work to benefit him. Then, too, she tied in the characters as Alcott wrote them in Little Women in portraying the sisters.

softdrink said...

What? No Little Women?? I thought that was like a rite of passage or something for young reading girls. :-D

Brooke said...

Don't feel bad! I've never read Little Women either, but I loved the movie. This one sounds excellent and a great way to get introduced to such an interesting woman.

Jenna said...

It's interesting that Louisa's behavior with her work was somewhat like her father's with life, yet that is what made her a success. I've never read Little Women, but I do have this one sitting on my shelf. Great review, as always!

DCMetroreader said...

I think Little Women is one of those pre-teen to teen novels that women read and love. I know that is when I read it. I'm not sure it would have the same impact on an adult woman. Still it is a very good novel.

Buried In Print said...

Her family life has always intrigued me; I think I'd find those aspects of this work interesting. What most piques my interest is that you've commented on the sense of the story feeling relevant despite the fact that it unfolds in the past; I like that too.

Amanda Nichole said...

I find it fascinating to read books about the authors of classics such as, "Little Women". You've aroused my curiosity!! However, like many others, I too am wondering what genre this fits into. Nevertheless, I still believe that this book looks fascinating! :)

Athira said...

I haven't read Little Women either, even though I keep meaning to. I may have to jump into some readalongs to make sure I read it. :) So glad that this book is really remarkable in your opinion. I had heard a lot about it last year, but then it slipped my memory. Thanks for reminding me of this book!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I would really like to read this one. I haven't read Little Women but I'm familiar with the story.

Ti said...

You did an excellent job with this one. You voiced many of the same issues that I noted when I read it years ago. I, too... had not read Little Women at the time of reading this one, but it didn't seem to affect my liking of the book.

nomadreader said...

I enjoyed this one too, and I also have not read Little Women. I tried a few times when the film version came out, but classics have often been hard for me to get into. In some ways I feel like I have read it because there was so much insight into the autobiographical elements in this novel!

Marie said...

I read this a while back and enjoyed it. It's a nice light fun book :)

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I love Little Women so I definitely need to pick this one up. I think I have it around the house somewhere... maybe. Was there another book written about Louisa May Alcott? I have something about her here somewhere. Must look through book piles!!

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