March by Geraldine Brooks. The adventures and travails of Mr March, father of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy during the year that the events of Little Women take place, and the memories of times past that led him to be there. The romantic veil torn away from the rhetoric of the Civil War, to smell the stink of blood and pus, sewage and arson: abolitionist idealism betrayed by pragmatism and prejudice.
And for those of us who remember Little Women fondly, justice to the source is done, although March wears Little Women lightly, and we see the daughters through letters and moments of sentimental recall only. March gives us the parents, especially Mr March, and shows them imperfect.
Especially for those of us who adored rebellious Jo and wilful Amy, but repressed our resentment of the inhumanly saintly role model served up to us in Marmee (a feminist thesis all on its own, Allcott's version of Marmee), Brooks not only gives her flesh and bone but gut and sinew. Mr March likewise doubts his ideology, wisdom and motives continually. The model marriage of the perfect parents that their daughters see - selfless, supportive wife and wise, noble husband - is riddled with resentments and regrets over misunderstandings and material want in proportion to the strength of the Marches' heartfelt yearnings for social justice and moral perfection.
If you're not a fan of first-person narratives replete with moral introspection, this may not be for you. There are no happy romantic subplots or comic mishaps once the senior Marches are away from Concord. This book was painful in parts, and at times I had to put it down to digest the events. But I think I love this book.
I'll be searching out Brooks' earlier novel Year of Wonders presently.