Guest Post & Giveaway: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I am very excited to have Kelly O'Connor McNees stopping by Take Me Away today! She wrote The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott which I reviewed last year. (Click on the title to go to the review). Her book recently came out in paperback. Kelly has stopped by to talk about Little Women. I also have TWO copies of her book to give away (U.S. winners only).

Every year around Thanksgiving I get the urge to reread Little Women. The story begins, of course, in December, with Jo March lying on the rug, declaring that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” The four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—and their mother, Marmee, are missing Mr. March, an army chaplain who has been called to the Civil War battlefields to minister to the injured and dying soldiers. Things just aren’t the same without their father there to guide them. Over the course of the story, the March sisters must learn to overcome their individual weaknesses: pride, anger, timidity, and vanity. In the end we see that they are no longer little girls but grown women.

Sounds cheesy, right? And hopelessly quaint, not to mention a celebration of calcified nineteenth-century gender roles. It is all those things. But every year I yearn to read it just the same. There’s something deeply soothing about the simplicity of its moral universe, where the purpose of life is improvement. Good people should try, always, to be better: more generous, more contemplative, more committed.

And, to be totally honest, there’s just one more tiny reason I reread this book: Ever year I hope against hope that Jo and Teddy “Laurie” Lawrence, the next-door neighbor and Jo’s kindred spirit, will end up together. Alas, in all these years it has never turned out differently. Why, I wondered countless times, did Louisa end Little Women the way she did?

The direct answer is the one Louisa herself gave when asked this question by readers. Little Women was a huge bestseller right out of the gate, and Louisa received hundreds of letters asking about Jo and Laurie. The pair could not marry, Louisa explained, because Jo would no longer be Jo if she chose to live a conventional life. Even when Jo marries Professor Bhaer at the end—a plot twist Louisa was forced to tack on at her publisher’s request—it is not the sort of passionate love affair one might hope to see. The professor is much older than Jo and their relationship is mainly an intellectual alliance. Bo-ring!

Louisa’s defense of Jo’s choice never satisfied me. A few years ago, on a whim, I picked up a biography on Louisa and found myself utterly surprised and fascinated by this woman I knew so little about. Her most famous novel represented only a small part of who she was—and, it turns out, Louisa never even wanted to write it. Though she never had a love affair, late in life Louisa burned letters and journals, a fact I found intriguing. The more I learned about who Louisa was, her triumphs and disappointments, I realized there was a great deal about her life I wanted to, for lack of a better word, examine. I had never felt that way about any historical figure before.

But I had more questions than answers. Much of what I wanted to know couldn’t be known. And that’s when I realized that, counterintuitively, fiction was probably the only avenue that might lead me to some answers. By writing about Louisa—creating a fictional episode for the Louisa in my imagination, that is—I could come to see her more clearly, see what was inside her heart and mind as a young woman starting out in the world. Perhaps this story could explain the origin of the character of Laurie and why Louisa would want to save Jo, her fictional alter ego, from heartbreak.

The result is The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a novel set in 1855 when Louisa was just twenty-two, yearning for independence in Boston and recognition as a writer, but stuck for the summer in sleepy Walpole, New Hampshire, with her family and one irritatingly charming young man named Joseph Singer.

Writing this novel has satisfied my questions—for now. Although I can’t be sure until November rolls around if I won’t start wondering all over again.

Kelly O’Connor McNees lives with her husband in Chicago. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is her first novel. To learn more, visit http://kellyoconnormcnees.com/

To enter the giveaway please leave a comment with your e-mail address. Only ONE entry per person!

Thank you Kelly for stopping by!!!

13 comments:

hip-chick said...

Sound interesting. I also was surprised by a biography of LMA. I have been to Concord, MA and visited Orchard House a few times as well.

Audra said...

I loved this guest post as I'm a huuuge Alcott fan. It was Alcott who called her Little Women books 'moralist pap', if I recall correctly, and even tho I love them, I appreciate her attitude. This sounds like a great book -- I've seen good reviews. Thanks for the giveway!

audra
unabridgedchick at gmail.com

Anita said...

I've really been wanting to read this book, I love the premise, and have always loved Little Women, but felt unhappy at it's ending too.
Extexgirl2 at aol dot com.
Thanks so much!

Sandy Nawrot said...

No need to enter me because I just finished this on audio. I just had to stop in and SCREAM with glee about how much I loved this book. LOVED. Hell, I never even read Little Women, so what does that tell you? Also, if you haven't seen it, you must find the book trailer. It is the best book trailer ever.

Sandra K321 said...

I would love to read this. And I think your opinion about the end of the book is similar to a lot of other faithful readers.
seknobloch(at)gmail(dot)com

Meredith said...

Doesn't sound cheesy at all. I have a few books myself that I often feel compelled to read over and over.

meredithfl at gmail dot com

JHS. said...

I've heard a lot about this book and have been wanting to read it!

JHS
Colloquium

jhsmail at comcast dot net

Tina said...

Ive always wondered about this book...:) It sounds lovely!

Carol N Wong said...

I have read every thing that Louisa Mae Alcott has written so I am a great big fan of hers. I would love to read this so much!!!!

CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

Zibilee said...

I loved this book so much, and even though I read it last summer, I still remember it very fondly. This was a great guest post as well, Jenny. Thanks for sharing it with us!

lizgatrgrl said...

This looks like such a great book! I am a huge Alcott fan so I just know I will enjoy this.

Jasmine Marie said...

I do the same thing. I reread in hopes that the ending will change. Maybe one day... Thanks for the giveaway!

karenk said...

oh, i would love to read this novel...thanks for the chance :)

karenk
kmkuka at yahoo dot com

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