Monday, July 2, 2012

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees — 354 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.

29 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I was thinking about you just this morning so I'm thrilled to see you back.

I loved this book and was really angered by Bronson as well. I was lucky enough to go to an event for Kelly and she really did her homework on this book.

You need to read Little Women - I think both you and your daughter would enjoy it.

Kathy said...

Welcome back! Missed you, hope all is well.
Nice review, I have a huge TBR pile, but this one looks good.

Sandy Nawrot said...

(Welcome back!) I have never read Little Women either! *shame* But I did love this book on audio...it has a great narrator, Emily Janice Card. I have found that some lovers of Little Women took a few issues with this book.

Lenore Appelhans said...

You're back! I missed you - hope you got your copy of LEVEL 2?

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

I think it's really a moot point whether the story is fiction or based on the actual life of the subject, since we have no way of verifying it really. If the writer tells the story in a convincing way, that's all I need.
Thanks for the great review. Do visit!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Me too, in the thrilled to see you back category! No one does extensive reviews quite like you do with analysis plus emotional reaction. Yay!

And me too in the I never read LW camp! :--)

Jenny said...

Glad to see you back. =) ... I already read this review by you though, hehe. ;)

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Loved your thoughts on this and really want to read it. I read Little Women when I was in elem. school but that's it.

Beth F said...

Glad you're back! What a treat to see this review this morning. I read Little Women very early on in my life ... you should take the time to read it this summer. It's an afternoon read.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Welcome back!

I read Little Women YEARS ago, so if I were to read it now it would be as if I'd never read it before. I'd probably have the movie from the '90s in my mind anyway. I've wanted to read this book for a little while now, but always forgot to put it on the TBR. Might have to now :)

Audra said...

I loathe Bronson -- he's such a jerk! I live by Orchard House and visit it now and then and they're definitely way more sympathetic to him than I think he deserves! anyway, I so need to read this book as I'm a huge Alcott fan -- I always wanted her to have a hot romance.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Ahhh you're back! Glad to see you... um well you know what I mean, LOL.
I keep seeing this book around and I am slightly interested, don't know if I will ever get to it or not.
Great review though, as always!

Jenna said...

Glad to have you back! Hope you had a wonderful blogging break!

I've had this one sitting on my TBR shelf for a while but haven't managed to pick it up yet. Maybe it's because I haven't read Little Women. However, after reading your review I'm definitely more intrigued!

Literary Feline said...

I haven't read Little Women either. So, you aren't alone in that. I am not sure I would have even given this book a second thought had it not been for your review. I like the way you describe Joseph and think I would enjoy this one. Thanks for such a great review!

Amy said...

I've been thinking about you a lot and wanted to email you but felt I should give you the space you wanted a little while longer. And here you are! Yay!

I think you'd like "Little Women". When you want something light (because it's more like YA and, although serious in spots it's also humorous) and enjoyable....the March sisters are entertaining, give it a try.

I very much want to read this book. At one time, I read many of Louise May Alcott's books and would like to know more about her...even if it isn't all true, I like the idea of putting her in a life & context...it's too bad her father was really like the one in this book.
Terrific review, Heather. Thank you!

Alison Skap said...

So nice to see you're back!!!!

Little Women holds a special very place in my heart, I think I would love Lost Summer. It's been on my TBR list for a while, but your review may just have bumped it up. Thank you!

(And welcome back!!)

reviewsbylola said...

Little Women was one of my favorite books as a child so I am always intrigued by Alcott. This one was one my wishlist for awhile but I was a little tentative about it so I am glad to see you enjoyed it!

Suko said...

Zibilee, I read this two summers ago, and I also enjoyed it quite a bit. I know you'll enjoy Little Women as well, in the future; you have a wonderful story waiting for you.

Welcome back to book blogging!

Aarti said...

I'm so happy to see you back!

Lisa said...

You're back!! I really enjoyed this one. For someone who loved Little Women growing up, I really felt like McNees managed to pull both the feel of that and the reality of the Alcotts together marvelously.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Welcome Back heather. Glad to see you post and visit:)

Iris on Books said...

I'm very glad you're back!

I admit I have been curious about this book. I reread Little Women recently and did not like it quite as much as I did when I was 14.. But there's something appealing about reading a fiction account of an author's life, and I think the life of Louisa May Alcott is very interesting, given her ambitions at the time, and her father..

Harvee Lau said...

Good to see you are back, Heather! Enjoyed your comments on this book on the life of the author of Little Women!

nomadreader said...

First: welcome back! Second: I'm with you on both not reading Little Women (I tried shortly after the Winona Ryder film came out, but I couldn't do it.) Lastly: I loved this book too!

Ti said...

After reading this book, I actually started Little Women and was loving it, but something came up and I never finished it. I was over halfway done with it too. I really want to finish it, but now... I'd have to go back to the beginning as too much time has passed. I may get it on audio.

Ryan said...

Welcome back. Missed your reviews.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

Welcome back!
Little Women is one of my favorite classics, and I read it many times as a teen (it's been a few years now, though), so this book is obviously on my reading list. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, even without having read her work

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

I'm going to pretend you never said you have not read Little Women! Outside of that one um, minor flaw (hand cough, hand cough) I loved your review!

Comparing Louisa with her father in personality is definitely insightful! They did share many of the same qualities now that I think back on when I read this book. And can you imagine having Bronson in your life these days?!? In any capacity ~ husband, friend, son, acquaintance....I'd have to lock and bolt the door behind his sorry behind!

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