Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Lost Opportunity--a summer than should have stayed "Lost"

I had an unexpected car trip last night so I grabbed the audio version of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott to keep me company. Having read, and loved, "Little Women," "Little Men," and other Alcott works and having enjoyed another fictionalized foray into the Alcott family work, the children's story Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau's Flute, I eagerly stuck the cd into the player and waited.

Disc One, not too bad, disc two...well.....by then I was more interested in the strip malls I was passing. Having nothing else with me, I let it keep playing. This book tries to imagine a summer when Louisa May Alcott was in her early 20s and it does set the stage well. At first I thought it was the reader who was, well, ya know, sort of, like, a, like teenager with a whinny sing-song voice--not intolerable, but nothing to brag about.

But I kept hearing things that were just not "authentic?" For example, back in the days of the Franklin Pierce administration [hello? He was a US President--back a little before Lincoln!] did New Englanders really refer to southerners as "rednecks?" And, would Louisa really have gone to the woods with a young man [the worst that happened was he put his arms around her and she pressed her cheek to his bare chest]? Would there really have been a mixed-swimming party in that day? And in bathing costumes that were more typical of the later-Victorian era? Would women have even known HOW to swim back then?? Sigh!
Continuing the story of a famous person or character is a risky business. Melissa Wiley did a fine job with her Little House prequels (until the publisher decided sadly and unwisely to "abridge" them [that is dumb them down] , and the James Bond books after the death of Ian Fleming have been "acceptable," but think of the others that failed spectacularly! Examples abound: the never-should-have-been-published horrors called "Scarlett" and "Rhett Butler's People," are among the worst examples EVER.

TV has wrecked havoc with many great characters of children's literature. One such example is the PBS-should-be-embarrassed-to-have-broadcast-it cartoon of "Anne of Green Gables" showing children of the late-Victorian era playing baseball in made-up old-fashioned looking batting helmets and openly consoling each other that head lice are no big deal. I'm pretty darned sure Marilla Cuthbert would have had to relocate to the Canadian mainland if Anne Shirley had come home with head lice!!!! Winnie the Pooh, the Littles, Curious George have all been high-jacked to a degree to make them into children's tv. And, sadly, Christian publishing is forever ripping off secular characters and "Christianizing" them. So wonderful snarky Eloise gets a lobotomy and re-emerges in print as so-called "Gigi" and so on.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott reminded me most of the "updated" Nancy Drew books. Like many girls, B loved Nancy Drew at a certain age. For Christmas she looked forward to getting more of them. One year she got some that were....PAPERBACKS! And, Nancy had a boyfriend? And went to slumber parties???? No more Nancy Drew! While "Lost Summer..." won't keep me from enjoying re-reading Alcott's books, it will make me more aware of that gut feeling I get when I sense a book is "wrong...."

Note: Earlier I reviewed Susan Cheever's Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography here is a link to that REVIEW.


Susan Bailey said...

Interesting review, first less-than-enthusiastic one I've seen on this book. I really enjoyed this book but then again I am just learning about 19th century life. I had trouble going along with the climax of the story though the ending was perfect. I thought the author captured Louisa's spirit. I found it to be a very enjoyable summer read.

BTW, thanks for posting on my Louisa May Alcott is My Passion blog. :-)

Hopewell said...

Susan, I agree that the book captured her spirit--good point that I left out. Thanks!!