March, Geraldine Brooks, Penguin Group Inc, 2005, 273 pp
Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize this year for this novel. I read it for one of my reading groups. It was pretty good but I had some problems with it.
The main character is Mr March, a fictional man who is supposed to be the father from Little Women, but is based on Bronson Alcott. He enlists in the Union Army during the Civil War as a chaplain for the troops. He is an impossibly idealistic man when he leaves for the war (even though he is middle-aged), but comes home a year later broken in body and spirit with many of his ideals shattered. As is often the case with idealists, he is not very practical.
It is a good story. There are plenty of gruesome battle scenes, interesting historical points and even sex. There is a good account of the woman's point of view through Marmee and a female slave. My problems were, first of all, that it seemed too obviously contrived. Secondly, although Brooks is good at showing divergent viewpoints, I get annoyed with her for not quite taking a stand as the author. I also had this problem with her last book, Year of Wonders. Perhaps this is because her background is journalism, but fiction is not journalism. I like an author with a moral stance.
Finally, Mr March was not a likeable character for me. Everything he did because of his ideals turned out badly and harmed more than it helped. The message that came across was that it is dangerous or even useless to have ideals.