Friday, September 28, 2007

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

JOEY: Ah, now Rach, these ah, these little women.


JOEY: How little are they? I mean, are they like scary little?

The above quote is from an episode of
Friends. I liked that episode more than I liked Little Women, which for the most part is pretty boring.

Little Women is about four sisters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, who live with their mother while their father is away fighting the civil war. It follows the trajectory of their lives from prepubescence to adulthood, ending ultimately in three marriages and one death (I'm not going to tell you which one. Though you could watch Friends and find out).

There's a lot I like about Little Women--especially the character of impudent, tomboyish Jo, who according to general consensus is a direct analog to Alcott herself, right down to her struggles over whether to write popular and lucrative potboilers (as Alcott herself did under assumed names) or genuine and heartfelt, but less profitable, books. The overall arc of the book is nicely put together, and does what few books do well in following an ensemble cast of characters whose personalities develop and evolve over time without losing sight of any of them.

But that arc also means this children's book has to be five hundred freaking pages long, and it's just not that interesting. The first part is especially grating, in which the young sisters are forever getting valuable life lessons from "Marmee" about hard work, proper thinking, and sisterly love. Gradually, the mimetic overcomes the didactic, but it takes a long freaking time.