Book review: “Only Gossip Prospers: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott in New York” by Lorraine Tosiello

Lorraine Tosiello, MD, has been a practicing internist in New York and New Jersey for 38+ years, specializing in infectious diseases. She has dedicated her professional life to the care of people with HIV. You could say it is a passion of hers, one that a certain 19th century author would have approved of wholeheartedly. It turns out that Dr. Tosiello is obsessed with that author, Louisa May Alcott.

Calling upon her years of reading and research, Dr. Tosiello has released her first work of historical fiction, Only Gossip Prospers: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott in New York (published by Pink Umbrella Publishing). It is an ambitious and bold debut novel imagining the 3-month period Alcott spent in New York in 1875.

Fleshing out Louisa

In my opinion, no one fiction author has captured Louisa more completely than Tosiello. Alcott was a brilliant, complex and conflicted woman, deeply passionate about social causes (in particular, women’s rights and the plight of the poor), dedicated to the support of her family, and driven compulsively to write. Subject to severe mood swings and often in poor health, you never knew if you would encounter the woman who could be the life of the party or the curmudgeon who would want nothing to do with you. It is this very complexity that makes Alcott such a fascinating study and yet most fiction authors miss this, pigeonholing Louisa into a grim and narrow post-Little Women figure, trapped by her fame and resentful of her commitment to her family.

In Only Gossip Prospers, Louisa May Alcott is portrayed as vibrant, funny, compassionate, somewhat of a busybody, and fiercely dedicated to social causes. She is shown as having fun, an indulgence that those of us who follow Alcott faithfully rarely get to see in her adult life.

Inner struggles

She is also shown to be conflicted about many things. Tosiello reveals these struggles through Alcott’s self-examination, a practice Louisa was taught from early childhood by her parents. Tosiello gives the reader tantalizing glimpses into Louisa’s strife with guilt, her work, her worth, and her relationships.

Full of surprises

This book is so full of twists and turns that it is impossible to get into its content without revealing spoilers. Suffice it to say that I found this to be an incredibly fun read. Several times I could not help but vocalize my surprise at the latest turn of events.

In some respects the structure of Only Gossip Prospers is reminiscent of Little Women, part one: a series of episodes guided by an underlying narrative, united by the setting and the cast of characters. At times I found it a bit challenging to keep track of all the different people and subplots of this story. Yet I found that the ending wrapped up most everything quite nicely.

If you have a love of latter 19th century New York City, this book is for you. If you have a fascination with alternative medicine, mentalism, spiritualism and phrenology, you will enjoy this read. If you like mysteries and surprises, you will not be disappointed.

Read this book and then show it to your friends. It’s a great way to explain to them why you find Louisa May Alcott so fascinating.

You can purchase Only Gossip Prospers: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott in New York from Amazon and the Barnes and Noble websites.

 

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