Katharine Weber, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $22 (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-18959-4

Swaddling her contemporary retread of the Louisa May Alcott classic in layers of self-referential debate about novel writing, Weber (The Music Lesson, etc.) squeezes the life out of this tale of three runaway sisters. Meg, Joanna and Amy Green (a pet turtle named Beth was regrettably short-lived) are like their Alcott predecessors in more than name. Meg, 20, is the discreet, responsible older sister; Amy, 15, is the spoiled youngest; and Joanna, 17, is the middle child, the tomboy and the novel's narrator. They grow up in New York City in cozy upper-middle-class bliss, their perfect family the envy of all. But their smug contentment is shattered when they discover their mother's affair; their father's blasé reaction is almost worse. In protest, Joanna and Amy move in with Meg and her roommate, Teddy Bell, at their off-campus apartment near Yale University. This far-fetched premise does give Weber opportunity to modernize the original—lesbianism and birth control become plot points, and the sisters discover mother Janet's affair through an incriminating e-mail. But Weber's real experiment is in narrative deconstruction. Comments from Meg and Amy pepper the text, contesting the structure of Joanna's story and arguing with her about her perspective and her version of reality. This might have been contentious fun, but the plodding, predictable narrative commentary begs to be skimmed, and the theorizing leaks into the story itself. To cap it all off, Weber's reworking of pivotal Alcott scenes is at once slipshod and too literal. Her rushed treatment of Teddy's hopeless bid for Joanna's love, in particular, falls flat. Better to reread the original—or even one of Alcott's own sequels, Little Men and Jo's Boys. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/16/2003
Release date: 09/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4299-2398-9
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-42309-4
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-312-42435-0
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