cover image March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women

March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women

Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley. Library of America, $21.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-59853-628-7

In this thoughtful essay collection, four contemporary authors explore their relationships to the title characters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Each focuses on the sister who holds particular significance for them, considering how their attitude toward the character has changed as they’ve grown from “little women” themselves into adults. Bolick (Spinster) recalls initially finding Meg March “yawningly familiar, the quintessential good girl of morality tales” until she found herself, like Meg, feeling utterly out of her element at a party. Similarly, Zhang (Sour Hearts) felt irritated by Jo March’s “boyishness” and “impetuousness,” but then, as she matured, unearthed deeper layers in the character. Machado (Her Body and Other Parties) finds common ground with the doomed Beth March through her own history of childhood illness, while Smiley (Golden Age) stirringly defends the oft-maligned Amy as the epitome of a “modern woman” and “thoughtful feminist.” In addition to sharing literary insights and personal histories, the authors also discuss the extent to which the Marches resembled and diverged from their real-life models: Alcott’s own sisters. Any readers who have ever compared themselves to Meg, Jo, Beth, or Amy—or to all four—will enjoy seeing Alcott’s much-loved classic through these alternate perspectives. (Sept.)