The year: 1855. The place: Walpole, New Hampshire. The woman: Louisa May Alcott, the author of the classic, Little Women.
When Louisa’s father, Bronson, experiences yet another epic business failure, the family is compelled to accept the charity of a generous relative and relocates to Walpole. Almost immediately, Louisa starts plotting ways to get back to Boston to begin her writing career. She doesn’t, however, count on the attentions of a certain Joseph Singer. While they first share a passion for the newly-published (and completely not female-friendly) Leaves of Grass, they eventually begin to share a passion for each other. This opens up a world of conflict for Louisa, who must decide between pursuing her dreams in Boston or staying in Walpole with Joseph, who may or may not actually be available himself.
Full disclosure here, if I ever got my hands on a time machine, making Louisa May Alcott change the ending of Little Women would be pretty high on my to-do list. Even though Jo does eventually find love with her professor, the true love of her life was obviously Teddy. The fact that Jo refuses his proposal is bad enough, but then he makes Amy his rebound chick! And she goes along with it! No, no thank you. Most people think that the tragic moment of Little Women was Beth’s death; for me, it was when Teddy shows up and tells Jo that he’s married. They both say all the right things, but then there’s this:
[Teddy, about Amy]: So I just settled the difficulty by saying, `Let’s be married, and then we can do as we like’.
Of course you did. You always have things to suit you.
Not always. And something in Laurie’s voice made Jo say hastily . . .
How did you ever get Aunt to agree?
Let’s fact it, that wasn’t the romantic proposal — especially when you consider the spirited, passionate way in which he proposed to Jo earlier in the novel. Then, he nearly slips up and Jo catches it. Finally he tries to apologize and set their relationship right again. He tells her that she and Amy have changed places in his heart, but they haven’t. There are things that people say to try to save face, and that is one of them. Yes, he clearly loves Amy, which he should, but Jo’s got that piece of his heart and probably always will.
I think what delighted me most with McNees’ book is that she’s clearly Team Jo as well. McNees’ Alcott is not shy about the fact that she’s based Laurie on Joseph, and even though history tells us that Jo ends up with her Professor and Alcott ends up alone, McNees spins a believable tale that parallel-parks quite nicely into the history of what we do and do not know about Alcott’s life. Here, Alcott’s proclivity for burning letters and journals works because while we know she was in Walpole at the right time in her life for a mature, life-changing relationship that could influence her greatest work, she made sure that we’ll never get the details. McNees fills in the gaps with characters that are true to the historical Louisa and the fictional Jo and Laurie. It’s also well-researched — especially in the characters of Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson — but never beats the reader over the head in its “researchability.” Like Little Women itself, it’s a captivating tale that draws the reader in and makes you fall in love with the March girls and the Alcotts all over again.
And now, I can focus my time traveling on something else…like placing a bet on the 2004 Red Sox.
McNees’ next book, In Need of a Good Wife, will be out in September.
By day, Elle Filz is an IT geek in Baltimore, MD. By night, you can either find her singing karaoke or jotting down notes for her next women’s fiction story. She is also an aspiring Betty Crocker-type who thanks God every day that a fireman lives next door.