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Fresh readings of a much-loved classic.

Louisa May Alcott’s fictional sisters still captivate contemporary readers.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Little Women, four writers offer thoughtful reflections about the famous March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Journalist Bolick (Becoming a Hairstylist, 2019, etc.) recalls that when she was young, Meg seemed unappealing to her, “the quintessential good girl of morality tales,” defined by her prettiness. Alcott’s message, Bolick decided, “was that pretty is a prison. If, like Meg, you are pretty, you can’t also be a writer, or an artist.” As an adult, though, Bolick came to realize that rather than represent sharply contrasting identities, the sisters need to be taken as a whole “to embody different aspects of the female experience,” inviting the reader “to imagine herself into a variety of personalities.” Poet and fiction writer Zhang (Sour Heart, 2017, etc.) recounts her changing responses to Jo, whom at first she hated for “her boyishness, her impetuousness, her obliviousness” to “feminine preening,” and her lack of interest in romance. Yet as she dedicated herself to writing, perhaps at the cost of marriage and children, Zhang came to understand—and to share—Jo’s ambivalence about her choices. Essayist and fiction writer Machado (Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) considers Lizzie Alcott, Louisa’s sister and the model for modest, undemanding Beth. Lizzie, though, was hardly sweet and docile but instead “snarky and strange and funny and kind and suffered tremendously and died angry at the world.” Transformed into a literary character, she has been effaced. “How do you keep other people from making you a Beth?” Machado wonders. “How do you stay out of other people’s stories?” Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Smiley (Golden Age, 2015, etc.) considers Amy, who, as the youngest, learns to be observant, flexible, and practical. More than her sisters, Amy “goes about shaping her life in a conscious manner”; she becomes, for Smiley, a “modern woman.” Besides focusing on Amy, Smiley offers a sensitive assessment of Marmee’s mothering, which often reveals a surprising lack of empathy.

Fresh readings of a much-loved classic.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59853-628-7

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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