Do you ever read a book you really wanted to love, only to find it a great disappointment?
I’m sorry to say Susan Cheever’s "American Bloomsbury" falls into that category.
As a lover of Louisa May Alcott, I looked forward to this book about the community of Concord, Massachusetts, and learning more about Alcott’s relationships with Thoreau and Emerson, about her father, Bronson, and about the connection of Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller to the rest.
What I got was a book crying out for the firm but loving hand of an editor, a "Come to Jesus" meeting for an author who had a sort of interesting idea that did not read as well as it imagined. (EditorMom, I thought of you often and wished a person with your gifts could have wrangled her manuscript!)
Repetitive and choppy, the book does no service to its author or its subjects. Many of the very brief chapters read as if Cheever made notes on 3 by 5 cards or on sticky notes and simply arranged them without thought to building a bridge between ideas or expanding on things that deserved more depth of exploration.
Many chapters of making these odd ducks friendly and admirable to the audience are followed by a lengthy excursus on their love for John Brown, a love which Cheever condemns, and suddenly we have a different book, or really what could have been a long essay about the dangerous naïveté of a group of vegetarian New Englanders and their infatuation with a martyr to the cause of liberating the slaves (which seems to be her conclusion). But a minute later we are right back to the declarative "post-it" style of writing.
Finally, as much as I love "Little Women," how can one make the case that it was the first novel to elevate the domestic sphere? Did Cheever miss the part in school about Jane Austen?
If you have read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts.