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The Little Women    by Katharine Weber order for
Little Women
by Katharine Weber
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Hats off to anyone who would try to adapt Louisa May Alcott's classic and much loved novel! Sitting down to read Katharine Weber's The Little Women was like sitting down to a meal of steak-and-kidney pie, only to find that it had morphed into sushi! This book is a gloriously modern take on Alcott's celebrated novel, bringing Meg, Jo and Amy firmly into a new perspective (although, unfortunately, sister Beth never exists in this 21st century novel; according to narrator Jo, 'Beth is the one who dies anyway, so you can see why they her parents skipped her and went straight to Amy.')

These three 'little women' grew up in a large, inviting apartment on Upper West Side Manhattan, enjoying a life of ease no money problems, private schooling and an amazing relationship with their parents - English professor Janet and Lou, a self-employed inventor. The sisters all take after their parents in their statuesque appearance and good looks. They often overhear total strangers remark on them as they pass by, but their very 'family togetherness' actually stands in the way of making close relationships ... 'Amy was well liked at school, but like Joanna, she had always felt so close to her sisters that she hadn't needed to make very many of those intense connections that most girls seek.'

The sisters' perfect life is shattered late one summer when they discover that their mother has had an affair with a student some twenty years her junior. Given their parents' moral values, they steel themselves for a complete family fission, but instead their father forgives their mother! This totally unexpected turn of events precipitates the flight of the two younger sisters from their 'claustrophobic March family' home to live with Meg in New Haven, where she attends Yale. We are introduced to Teddy, another student who has agreed to share Meg's apartment even though he knows that her 'baby sisters' will be bunking in. Teddy is often the voice of reason in this household of somewhat neurotic and overly moralizing females who fail to see the frailty of human conduct; at one point he admonishes: 'Up to now, you three seem to have lived in some sort of hermetically sealed family life as if it were the nineteenth century.'

Katharine Weber's The Little Women is an interesting take on L.M. Alcott's Little Women. This version is full of twists and turns and insights into modern life, moving along at a fast pace. I particularly enjoyed Weber's use of readers' notes which form a 'dialogue of sorts' between Jo, the narrator, and her two sisters. By the end of the novel, we hope that each sister has come to a better understanding of human interactions, especially in terms of their parents and 'what held them in place.' This remarkable story of the close-knit Green (March) family was lots of fun to read, given the parallels with, and differences from, the original Little Women.

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