I got all the sisters with me – “The Little Women Letters” by Gabrielle Donnelly
I have, and can pretty much assume that every lady I know has.
If you’re familiar with Jo, Amy, Beth, Meg, and Marmee March and their Civil-War-era shenanigans, Gabrielle Donnelly’s “The Little Women Letters” will bring back fond memories.
The central conceit is great; Rather than fictional characters, the March sisters were real. Generations later, in London, Jo’s family line has resulted in a trio of sisters – Lulu, Emma, and Sophie – who have their own modern lives. When Lulu heads up into the attic to find an old family recipe book, she winds up uncovering letters written from the sisters to each other over a century ago. Reading through the letters, she discovers what the women who came before her were like and gets some insight into her own family.
Now, Donnelly is no idiot. She doesn’t have Lulu learn valuable life lessons from the words Jo and Meg wrote to each other, and there’s no “OMG! We’re related to the ‘Little Women’ girls!” exclamation. In fact, the letters Lulu reads are more charming background information for the more vivid stories of the three modern sisters.
The three new sisters are intriguing; Emma is engaged to be married to a lovely man, but she splurges and spends the money she should have spent on a fridge on new wonderful shoes, then winds up having to decide if she wants to join her soon-to-be husband as he gets a job offer to spend a year in North Dakota. Lulu drifts from career to career before finding a friendship with a man who’s lodging in their mother’s house. The baby of the family, Sophie the actress, flutters around and starts building her career with a role on a popular TV show.
The “Little Women” references are everywhere, even if they’re not hammered into your head. The character of Aunt Amy – staunch and mean – is a direct throwback to Aunt March. Sophie’s friendship with an elderly neighbor brings to mind Beth’s relationship with Mr. Laurence. Lulu’s relationship with Tom the lodger is almost exactly like Jo’s relationship with the Professor (minus the whole “they get married in the end” thing). Emma, obviously the Meg, is the one getting married. For her part, Fee is a thoughtful and helpful mother to the girls – truly, she’s a Marmee.
And yes, at one point, there’s a potentially life-threatening situation for the baby of the family.
“The Little Women Letters” would be a treat for any Alcott-fans you know, and especially for those women who are familiar with the original March sisters. Is it a genius piece of literature? No, but it’s fun to read and charming as can be.
(I really wanted to end this post with a clip of that amazing episode of “Friends” where Joey and Rachel trade favorite books – so he reads “Little Women” and she reads “The Shining.” Sadly the only clip I can find on youtube is in Spanish. Oh well, it’s funny. So there.)