In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott introduced us to Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth and their mother, Marmee. She showed us how a mother and her four girls struggle, survive and love while their husband and father is away—serving with the Union troops during the Civil War.
In March, Geraldine Brooks gives us the other side of the story—mainly from Mr. March’s point of view. The novel opens with Mr. March writing a letter home to his wife and daughters, struggling to write something that they will want to hear. He reminds himself that he promised to write something every day but he never promised to write the truth. Soon after finishing his letter describing glowing sunsets and the location, a skirmish arises. In his haste to save himself and others, he travels across a river, through woods and ends at a house serving as a hospital for injured soldiers. It is not until he arrives at the door that he realizes he has been there before.
That realization takes him back to his youth and we learn how he spent his early adulthood—peddling books and various items to wealthy southern landowners. In this vocation, he meets Mr. Clement and his slave, Grace—the woman who gives Mr. March his first kiss.
Mr. March eventually must leave the Clement plantation, make his way back north and eventually meets his future wife, Marmee. He befriends the Thoreau and Emerson families along the way, especially Henry Thoreau and Waldo Emerson.
The novel makes its way back to the present time, with Mr. March meeting Grace again, briefly. After he has transferred to another unit and spent time on another plantation, Mr. March is both wounded and ill when he finds himself in Blank Hospital, Washington. Here, two-thirds through the novel, Brooks gives us Marmee’s view for the first time as she arrives to tend to her husband. Thus far, Brooks had given Marmee a side other than the “goody-goody” character we see in Little Women but finally, in this last portion of the novel, she allows us to hear from Marmee herself.
What emerges is a clearer picture of a marriage, with all of the misunderstandings and sacrifices that entails. The story continues to unfold further but still remains true to Miss Alcott’s original story.
March is both disheartening and moving. Like all of us, Mr. March is flawed. He wants very much to do the noble thing but fails often. It is as much a story about how war affects one’s behavior and beliefs as it is about love, passions and relationships. Ms. Brooks does an admirable job of staying true to Miss Alcott’s creation—giving us a deeper understanding of her memorable characters and quite an introduction to the one who was left out.