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
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 Based on Rose's unpublished diaries and Laura's letters to her, Albert reveals just how much Rose shaped Laura's stories, and reveals the truth -- thorny and complicated -- of their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!
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