Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

1. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Conner McNees

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a thoughtful reflection on the life and influences of the Transcendentalists' most successful member.

McNees writes a simple yet profound story that is clearly grounded in a deep understanding of Louisa's personal history. As a huge fan of the author myself, I have read a few biographies of her, as well as being familiar with the books and history of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other great men and women who formed the environment in which she grew up. McNees has read those same biographies and more, but she brings a light touch to her prose. There are no info dumps here, only simple, everyday events that show without telling the characters of Louisa, her sisters, their parents. The scene where the family reads their journals to each other, for example, illustrates a well-known occurrence, but is much more effective than the non-fiction.

McNees' fictional characters are a bit under-developed, admittedly, and the love story happens unaccountably quickly. But McNees cuts to the quick of Louisa's life with this presentation, because it's not really about the love story after all. There might be crowds of fangirls slavering to know who the "real Laurie" was, but what they didn't get (and maybe we can begin to grasp today) is that Jo's life (and Louisa's) was never about Laurie. It was about a woman who could find a different way of living, a woman who could be independent and successful all on her own. And Louisa's life story is a better example of that even than Jo's, because while Louisa married off her fictional character to satisfy convention and sales revenues, she herself remained true to her work.

While Louisa's is not a life that everyone may have wanted, this book is a paean to those who have chosen to walk a less conventional path in life. If you are an Alcott fan, or simply a person who wants to do something different, no matter how hard, this book will be a welcome, if bittersweet, release.

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