A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

Title: A Wilder Rose
Author: Susan Wittig Albert

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / Southern US / Mother - Daughter Relationships / On Writing / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Persevero Press (10/1/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The story behind the collaboration between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the famed children's series Wilder is most known for, the Little House books.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I don't mind it -- the image is of one of the houses both Wilder women lived at which is appropriate for the story.

First line: With an audible sigh, Rose Lane rolled the letter out of her Underwood typewriter and signed it -- Much love as always, Rose.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy (or borrow) if you like the Little House books, novels about writers and the writing process, stories about mothers and daughters, and/or historical fiction that looks at the Great Depression.

Why did I get this book?: I was intensely curious about the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her famous series.

Review: I never went through a passionate pioneer/homesteader phase like so many of my peers (perhaps because my family's moves to Nebraska and South Dakota made the fiction too real) but I'm perpetually interested in the stories, bleak and unvarnished, of life for women out West. Laura Ingalls Wilder's novels might not have caught my interest, but the story of their journey to publication is fascinating.

Albert's biographical novel of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, is an eye-opening account of the creative process that lead to the publication of the eight books so beloved and cherished, as well as a rather deft look at the tense, trying, and intense relationship between mother and daughter. Based on Rose's unpublished diaries and Laura's letters to her, Albert reveals just how much Rose shaped Laura's stories, and reveals the truth -- thorny and complicated -- of their collaboration.

Set between 1928 and 1939, Rose tells the story of how she came to be the editor and ultimately ghostwriter for her mother's famous books. A smart, restless, cash-savvy published journalist and writer, a divorcee and mother to a dead child, Rose has always tried to leave behind her poverty and small-town roots, but is pulled back when her mother pleads for help, citing illness. When the market crashes in 1929, the wealth that allowed Rose the freedom she loved is gone, but finds a way to support herself and her family by reworking her mother's stories about pioneer life.

More than just a story about stories, Albert's novel also delves into the fascinating creature Rose Wilder Lane was. Now considered a 'mother of Libertarianism', Albert details how the events of the '20s and '30s shaped her political ideologies, and how both Rose and Laura needed their memories of pioneer life to be a parable of American ingenuity and triumph. While obviously quite fond of both Rose and Laura, Albert's articulation of both women is clear and feels honest; they're shown to be hard, shockingly cold at times, astoundingly resilient, and fiercely devoted to their family. At times I wanted to shake them both, but felt admiration, too.

The writing style is warm and brisk, straight-forward but rich with personality. Early on, Rose shares her deep love for houses, a passage that struck me as both pretty and telling.
For me, houses are a vice. No, more than that: they are a seductive, enthralling, soul-stirring joy. My life is littered with the bones of houses that have enchanted me, on which I have lavished time and money -- a curse and I know it, but there it is. (p22)

I inhaled this book in a matter of days, mesmerized by the story and enthralled by Rose. (Yeah, I've got a bit of a admire!crush on her.) Albert evokes the grim, grimy, stark, optimistic era of the Great Depression, and probes an American legend in a way that is respectful, thoughtful, and human. Fans of the Little House books will absolutely want to read this one but I don't think those unfamiliar with the series will be lost, as the focus isn't on the stories within the books but the circumstances around producing them. Anyone interested in 1930s American history will want this one, too, with the Midwest setting and Rose's sharp political eye.

A really fantastic biographical novel. A fav of 2013!

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of A Wilder Rose to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers, ends 10/18.


Comments

  1. Nice review, I grew up with Little House and have this book on my tbr pile.

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    1. Can't wait to see what you think of it! I found it so illuminating -- it made me want to read all of the Little House books now!

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  2. I loved this book too - definitely a favorite for the year. Now I want to read the novels that Rose wrote under her own name. My review's up for the tour tomorrow!

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    Replies
    1. I know, me too! I'm totally obsessed with Rose now! Can't wait to see your review -- this was so good!

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  3. I never read this series growing up but I did love the TV show! I love getting the behind the scenes look at an author's inspiration. Thanks for the review/giveaway!

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    Replies
    1. Oh, Colleen, definitely get this, then -- I don't think not reading the novels is an impediment -- I hadn't -- but I still really loved this book -- the author is good at connecting the premise of the books they're working on. Really wonderful!

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  4. Replies
    1. It was just a wonderful novel -- really un-put-down-able!

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  5. I loved these books as a kid, so I am fascinated that the "authors" provide such fodder for discussion and thought as an adult.

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    Replies
    1. Nicole -- I suspect you'll still be able to hold your love for these books -- but appreciate them even more. Albert was very honest in her depiction of the tension between mother and daughter, but it's apparent she likes and admires both Wilder women, and this novel is a wonderful 'adult' look at this series. I'm quite smitten!

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  6. This sounds so good. Thanks for your wonderful review.

    I never heard of this book before.

    Love visiting your blog.

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

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  7. What a great review :D I just read this one myself and I really enjoyed it as well!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jennifer -- for once I was able to gush and articulate why! ;)

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  8. This one sounds so good! I am definitely adding it to my to-read list.

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  9. Wow, this sounds great. I did go through the "Little House" phase, and even made my husband drive all the way to Walnut Grove the first time I was in Minnesota, just so I could see it! I can't wait to read this one.

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    Replies
    1. Col, I"m so jealous! I really want to do a Wilder tour when/if I get to MN!

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  10. I thought this one sounded interesting, so I'm glad to hear it was so good!

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    1. It really was -- I'd love for this one to get some attention as it's a gem. My estimation of it grows as time goes on!

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  11. So the books weren't quite Laura's own - something new learned today! How interesting that there's a good story behind the books.

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    1. Exactly! This is the kind of biographical fiction I love -- Albert really plumbs the relationship between mother and daughter, two artists, women damaged in their own ways from their own hard lives ... super fascinating stuff!

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  12. I was a big fan of the Little House on the Prairie books and read them several times while growing up. I also was so impressed by Laura Ingalls Wilder but I had no idea her daughter, Rose, had so much to do with the writing of the books. This books sounds so interesting and compelling. Rose sounds like a woman ahead of her time who did what she had to to care for her family. I can understand why you read this book so quickly and it sounds as if a love of the Little House books isn't a requirement to find this book readable and absorbing.
    Thank you for another fantastic review and an intriguing post, Audra....must find my wishlist now!

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    Replies
    1. I suspect you'd really enjoy this one -- I don't think it would change anyone's love for the series, but rather, enhances it. Laura and Rose were two fascinating, marvelous women -- Albert really breathes life into them and gives Rose some long deserved credit.

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  13. I think I read a couple of the Little House books but wasn't as enamored of them as my peers were. However, you've made this book sound interesting.--Kay

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  14. I was never a huge Little House fan, but for whatever reason I find Laura Ingalls Wilder pretty fascinating. This sounds like it would be right up my alley!

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  15. I enjoyed A Wilder Rose too, and enjoyed your review of it. Rose and Laura were prickly individuals, and their stories are fascinating to read about. I was a hard-core bonnet head in my youth, but have come to accept the fact that the fictional Laura was just that, fictional. That doesn't diminish the story of the author and her remarkable daughter, however.

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