Overcoming Expectations, A Review of March by Geraldine Brooks

My husband has a weakness for bad movies. You know the type—hardcore action flicks without a hint of plot or wit (the kind a monkey could write). My trick to surviving the deluge of cinematic garbage he drags me to? Low expectations.

Unfortunately, I do just the opposite with books, inflating my expectations beyond reason and attainment. Such was the case with March.

This Pulitzer Prize winning civil war novel follows the service of Captain March, the absent father in May Louisa Alcott’s novel Little Women.  A union chaplain, fierce abolitionist, and strict vegetarian, Mr. March’s journey illuminates a unique facet of this much-written-about war.

From page one, author Geraldine Brooks captures the reader with lush, vivid prose. But it is the truth behind these words, the ugly reality of war and slavery, that truly grips. Mr. March begins the novel a moral idealist. By the end, he is a shattered, haunted man struggling to find his footing in a world ripped bare of poetic pretenses.

The book holds numerous worthy themes—love and betrayal, duty and sacrifice. For a brief section of the book the point of view shifts from Mr. March to that of his wife, Marmee. Truthfully, I found this shift coarse and rather jolting, but it does yield depth to the story. The reader glimpses a loving marriage undermined by misunderstandings and half-truths. Again, it is the honesty in this depiction, the admission—the insistence that life is fraught with complications and imperfections, that touches the reader.

Growing up with sisters, I adored Little Women. And I love historical fiction, especially that concerning the Civil War. All this, combined with a knee-jerk adulation for winners of prestigious book awards, created the prefect storm. I expected perfection from book that was merely excellent.

The loss is mine and the lesson learned. Let books sing their own greatness; don’t smoother them beneath preconceptions.

What’s the best book you didn’t love?

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