Saturday, August 19, 2023

Belittled Women, by Amanda Sellet

Growing up, Jo and her two sisters (Meg and Bethamy) often enjoyed their Mom's Little Women obsession.  And there were worse ways to earn a living than reenacting scenes from Louisa May Alcott's classic for tourists in a review they call Little Women Live!.  But as Jo grows older, the exercise becomes burdensome and humiliating.  The productions are decidedly amateur, often ridiculous, and Jo longs to be a normal teenager.  She's sick of Little Women and wants out.

When a sophisticated travel writer and her cute son come to see what the show is all about and do a write-up in a national periodical, Jo sees an opportunity to branch out and reach for her dreams.  She gains the woman's confidence and support.  She starts planning her escape to New York City and becoming a writer.  But in the end, she learns that not all dreams are what they seem and the only true security comes from family -- not-all-that-dissimilar message than from the classic inspiration.

While paying tribute to the original, Sellet's novel excels for its depiction of the fractious relationship between the three sisters.  The constant snarky barbs and petty acts of vengeance weave a complicated story of girls whose familiarity breeds strong contempt and deep affection.  I won't pretend to understand it fully, but it felt authentic.  I also enjoyed a number of casual asides about Alcott the writer and the place of the novel in the Canon -- comments which felt informative without being stodgily educational.  A good amount of humor rounds the story out.

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