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Monday, April 26, 2010

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Two female authors from past centuries, different as their personal lives were, still command extreme loyalty and interest from their readers. Jane Austen, because so little is known about her life and personality, lends herself easily to the current craze in speculative fiction about authors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Louisa May Alcott, though, is Austen’s opposite when it comes to what is known about her personal life. Alcott used so many of the real-life experiences of the Alcott family in her own fiction that her loyal readers already feel that they know everything worth knowing about her. That aside, first-time novelist Kelly O’Connor McNees now offers a tale about a supposed “lost summer” during which Alcott experienced the passionate, though short-lived, romance of her lifetime.

The summer in The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott begins when 20-year-old Louisa moves with her family from Boston to Walpole, New Hampshire, because her father is once again dependent on the goodwill of friends to provide a temporary home for his large family. Louisa does not expect much good to come from the move and she intends to escape to Boston (where she hopes to kick her writing career into high gear) as soon as she feels the family has successfully settled into its new lifestyle. But, as is so often the case, life happens first, and Louisa finds herself reconsidering her plans – a most shocking turn of events because it involves her romantic feelings for a young man, feelings Louisa fights hard to ignore. On a trip to the town’s general store to purchase material for new curtains, Louisa and her sister meet Joseph Singer, a young man clerking in the family business for his desperately ill father. Louisa feels a strong attraction to Joseph but denies it even to herself. Joseph, on the other hand, feels the same attraction to Louisa and is determined to court her despite whatever obstacles she might throw his way.

Louisa’s “lost summer” will be one filled with tragedy, misunderstanding, passion, anger, tenderness, tears, laughter, sadness and sacrifice – even an amateur stage production. But although this short summer will forever change Louisa May Alcott and Joseph Singer, it will not, as Alcott’s fans already know, divert her from her path toward spinsterhood. Louisa’s strong desire to live her life as an independent woman beholden to no man would not so easily be overcome.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott does a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of small-town America in the decade just prior to the American Civil War. The Walpole of 1855 is portrayed as the kind of place in which everyone knows everyone else, a town in which those of courting age still do so much as described in the novels of Jane Austen – but also a town in whom much is going on just below the emotional surface of many of its residents. As Louisa will learn, family connections are important and marriages are still sometimes arranged by fathers strictly for financial reasons.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott
is a rather straightforward historical romance novel, but it is an interesting one because of its main character. I particularly recommend it to those readers who already have a built-in fascination for anything to do with Ms. Alcott – for them, despite it not offering an alternate history, this one will be like reading about an old friend.

Rated at: 3.5

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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