Published: June 15, 2010
Source: Personal Copy (Kindle)
I meant to do this book review a few days ago, and then I noticed that Mama Kat had as one of her prompts to do a book review. Oh yeah…two birds with one stone!
I was almost reluctant to read this book for two reasons. The first being that I’m not a fan of celebrity memoirs. They tend to either be written by ghost writers, which I think betrays any authenticity of the memoir, or—worse yet—they aren’t written by ghost writers and they really should have been.
Secondly, I recently read Jeanette Walls’s The Glass Castle for my book club. I didn’t review it here, since I usually don’t review my book club reads. However, I was not fond of that book. Without going to far into it, I didn’t believe the author and therefore didn’t trust the book. As for this book, it sounded a little too similar in subject matter to The Glass Castle. A girl, with “unconventional” parents, survives a troubled childhood and becomes a strong adult woman. We’ve all heard that story before.
On count 1, I am very happy to say that Arngrim is an entertaining writer. Even before leaving behind the deliciously evil Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, she started doing stand up and it shows in her writing. She has an entertaining and conversational style that she holds both through entertaining anecdotes of life in Hollywood and during her dark days as both a child and an adult.
On count 2, my worries were unfounded. Unlike Walls, Arngrim comes across as completely believable. To be fair, part of this is because most people my age grew up with Little House on the Prairie and know her, at least, as Nellie Oleson. But she also writes about other people with a sense of authentic respect that you can tell she isn’t hiding much, if anything.
Arngrim grew up in Hollywood. Her father was a manager and her mother was Gumby. And Casper the Friendly Ghost. Her parents were not what one might consider suited for parenthood, but they both knew their own abilities in that arena. Arngrim has an older brother, also an actor, who made her life a living hell from—until she found an escape as Nellie Oleson.
The book seems a little compartmentalized as you read it. There is her pre-Little House days, during which she is abused by her older brother without her parents even noticing. Then, there is her time as Nellie Oleson—which is probably the most entertaining portion of the book, at least for those of us who grew up watching her. Then, after Little House, her life seems to resume. However, this compartmentalization is clearly how her life really was. Little House on the Prairie was her escape and, once she left it, she had to deal with the demons of her past.
I loved reading about the time she spent on the set of Little House on the Prairie. I devoured that show growing up and I actually liked Nellie. I mean, she was far more interesting than either of the goody-goody Ingalls girls. The atmosphere behind the camera sounded almost more fun. From Michael Landon’s costume (or lack thereof) choices to the flowing liquor among the crew (and Michael Landon) to a hilariously disturbing incident with a wetsuit, the anecdotes themselves are worth reading the book.
It is after Arngrim leaves Little House on the Prairie, that you see her grow as a person. She had a horrific childhood, and then 7 years of escape. Now, she has to deal with it all. Add to the fact that her dear friend, and Little House husband, is stricken with AIDS and a strong woman emerges, one that I found utterable awe-inspiring.
I’m giving this book 4.5 stars. It’s entertaining, but it is not going to with the Pulitzer. However, it has been a long time since a memoir (and, well, since The Hunger Games trilogy that any book) sucked me in as much as this one. I’ve even started watching Little House on the Prairie again, much to my husband’s chagrin (although, let’s face it, after reading this book, I’m watching for different things than when I was a little girl!). It’s a light, fun and moving read that I would recommend to anyone who loved—or hated—Nellie Oleson.
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