Friday, August 27, 2010

Little Women, Big Fanfic

First of all, I highly recommend that whenever you see bargain books, you skip on over to that aisle and make friends with all of the $5 hardcovers you can find. It's a better buy than the $5 movie bin.

A recent excursion to the bargain book section in the Altoona, PA Barnes & Noble opened me up to a gem that shows that fanfiction--a reader writing an independent extension or re-imagining of a work, in short--is actually a viable literary mode. The book: the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner, Geraldine Brooks's March.

Granted: most fanfics are the product of obsessions with pop culture (think animé, Harry Potter, comic book characters, and fans re-shaping those worlds), and many fanfics are flaky or juvenile in writing style (or raunchy in terms of content, but that comes with the territory). But it's a genre that gets unnecessarily maligned, simply because people believe to be the antithesis of serious literature.

Geraldine Brooks spins a fanfic out of a plot hole in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women; she takes the mention that the girls' father, Chaplain March, has embarked on the Civil War with Union soldiers. The novel follows March from a moment early in his tour of duty to the injury and illness that call his wife from Concord to his bedside in Washington, D.C. From here, Brooks investigates the moral complexities and ambiguities of war, and by filling this gap in the narrative, Brooks's fanfic adventures into the silences of Alcott's classic children's tale.

Fanfic or not, though, Brooks crafts an elegant novel that is literary in tone and voice yet remains "canon" (not "canon" in the sense of "literary canon"; I mean "canon" in the fanfic sense, that her story fits the author's original narrative). And the book isn't pastiche, either; Brooks isn't simply sliding into Alcott's voice and writing a blasé authorized sequel. It's a novel that delves into March's unspoken tour of duty, into the darkness of war, into the vileness of human prejudices, and into the philosophical bargaining that accounts for our personal philosophies.

If you're a fan of Little Women, I encourage you to look into Geraldine Brooks's March. It's evidence that fanfics are more than just creative speculations; fanfiction is a viable genre waiting for exploration.


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