Published: August 28, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for readers interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, or American Libertarianism
In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane—world traveler, journalist, much-published magazine writer—returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents’ Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71, Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. To make life easier, she built them a new home, while she and Helen Boylston transformed the farmhouse into a rural writing retreat and filled it with visiting New Yorkers. Rose sold magazine stories to pay the bills for both households, and despite the subterranean tension between mother and daughter, life seemed good.
Then came the Crash. Rose’s money vanished, the magazine market dried up, and the Depression darkened the nation. That’s when Laura wrote her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” the story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake. The rest—the eight remarkable books that followed—is literary history.
But it isn’t the history we thought we knew. For the surprising truth is that Laura’s stories were publishable only with Rose’s expert rewriting. Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House books—the collaboration that Rose and Laura deliberately hid from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers.
Why did the two women conceal their writing partnership? What made them commit what amounts to one of the longest-running deceptions in American literature? And what happened in those years to change Rose from a left-leaning liberal to a passionate Libertarian?
Like pretty much every little girl in the last 80 years, I grew up on the Little House books (and the TV show, of course!) and I will soon start reading them to my daughter. Because of this, I was instantly interested in this book. The true story of the creation of the Little House books? Sign me up!
Here's the thing, though...I went into this book not really caring if Rose Wilder Lane wrote all the books. The authorship of these books doesn't make a difference at all to me and it doesn't change the fact that I loved the books. I'm putting that out there for anyone who might be reluctant to read this book because they don't want to feel that their childhood was based on a lie.
But, here was the surprising part for me...the authorship of the Little House books was far from the most compelling part of the book for me. I'm not saying it wasn't interesting--it was, in sort of a trivial way--but the life of Rose Wilder Lane is what sold this for me.
I will say that this book more like a memoir or biography than a novel, which is fine with me. In fact, I quite liked the way it seemed that I was hearing the story from the "real" Rose Wilder Lane. She was a fascinating woman. While she was well ahead of her time, she still had to deal with the ageless mother-daughter relationship issues. We may all have the picture of plucky young Laura Ingalls Wilder (who looks quite a bit like Melissa Gilbert) in our minds, but the reality was that she was a mother and she and Rose and to learn to work out their relationship issues.
She was also passionate about political and social causes and swung from being an almost-Communist to one of the mother's of the American Libertarian movement. (I have a relative who made an almost identical swing--I like to think that she just took one too many steps to the left and ended on the far right!). If you are wondering what the Libertarian movement really is, not what the talking heads tell you it is, read this book. While I don't agree with many things about Libertarianism, I understand why Lane came to that philosophy. Although, that being said, she was--if we use the definition modern Libertarians apply to themselves--one of the worst Libertarians ever. She was always living paycheck to paycheck and would spend money as fast as she could once it landed in her hands.
I'm glad that I read this book--especially now as I'm about to re-embark on the original books. I think anyone who has an interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder or feminism or Libertarianism or whatnot should consider this book.
I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.