A Wilder Rose

Title: A Wilder Rose

Author: Susan Wittig Albert. She is the author of several historical novels, including The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Readers: Blogger From Grind to Whine Stacey, metrics analyst Mary, stay at home parents Shawna and Marina, and lawyers Cait and Abby R.

Summary: 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 Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House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.

Our Take: Lovers of Little House may find their dreams shattered when they read this novel of the truth behind how the books were written. Those who are big time LH gurus may find nothing new here. While some of our readers found the book to enrich their Little House love, others were more disenchanted.

FGTW Stacey

This book is one that will stick with me for a long time. Much like the Little House book series stayed me through my youth, A Wilder Rose is a book that I know I will turn to again and again in my adulthood.

At first, I took the facts in this book hard. After all, anyone who grew up loving the Little House on the Prairie books held Laura as their heroine. Reading A Wilder Rose will upset that notion. I tell you this, not to deter you, but to prepare you before you read. I took it hard and almost found myself not liking A Wilder Rose for that very reason. But then I read on.

As I continued to read, I found myself reading and understanding that complex relationship that only exists between mothers and daughters. I was buoyed by the resilience of both Rose and her mother, Laura, in their own ways. I was equally annoyed by both of them, as their relationship went through its many ups and downs. In other words, it hit home and rang true. This is a story about mothers and daughters and the hopes we pin on each other and the guilt and obligation that drives us to continue on.

This story also served as a great inspiration to me as a writer, too. Rose’s personal success with her career, coupled with the economic struggles of living through the Great Depression offer up a inspiring message of perseverance and optimism. All writers understand the ghosts of self-doubt and rejection, but success is driven by continuing to go on, despite all pitfalls. Rose is a true champion for writers.

I enjoyed the historical peek into the 1930’s as well as the landscape of the plains states countered by Rose’s visits to more metropolitan cities. The setting offers up genuine snapshots of this difficult time in our nation’s history, while still showing that not much has changed in society between then and now.

If you love historical fiction, tales of mothers and daughters, and inspiring characters who persevere, pick up A Wilder Rose. If you loved the Little House books so much that you are afraid this will change your memories of them, pick it up anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

Grade: A-

 

Mary

I’m a big fan of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles and Beatrix Potter series. I’m a huge Little House fan. Not only do I have all the books of the original series, I have all the ones written about Laura’s family. I’ve read biographies, keep up with historians who write about LH on the web, partially worked my way through the Little House cookbook… I’m a fan.

Unfortunately, that meant none of the information in A Wilder Rose was new for me. I already knew that I wouldn’t have liked Laura in person, nor would I have liked Rose. I already knew about Rose’s relationship with Helen Dore Boylston (whose books I also own). I already knew Rose thought her mother wasn’t a very good mother, and that she felt guilted into financially maintaining her parents’ lives. I knew she “ghostwrote” the books, and if you have read Rose’s fiction, it’s very clear that it happened. Heck, I knew more behind the scenes information than was in A Wilder Rose. I knew that Rose Wilder Lane is considered the Mother of Libertarianism by many, and that she helped slant the Little House books in that manner. I knew the Wilder’s farm was never actually as financially stable as Laura pretended in her newspaper articles – that the book sales, and Rose’s monthly “allowance” to her parents were actually what kept the family financially solvent.

I knew all those things… and I read them in more interesting formats than A Wilder Rose. For a book that was supposed to be historical fiction, it read more like a very dry biography. Maybe if you didn’t know any of the things about the family, it would be better.

Grade: C

 

Marina

I’m such a huge Little House fan that I was willing to stop being a book snob and read the book in digital format.  Even if you never read the original books, you will enjoy A Wilder Rose as a captivating look into the life of a unique woman.  This fictionalized account of the real Rose Wilder Lane makes you understand why she and her mother deceived their readers and editors for so long.  Their mother-daughter relationship dynamics are initially baffling.  Why would Rose, a sophisticated, well-traveled and published author move back to her insular hometown and re-write her mother’s books for years?  The reasons are complex, yet universally understandable to modern women.

As a child reading the Little House book series and watching the tv show, I always wanted to be Laura.  It’s somewhat disconcerting to realize that Laura was basically just a character, not as autobiographically accurate as we readers were led to believe.  Nevertheless, she and Rose became strong women who survived the Great Depression.  This book really shows you what it’s like to live in such harrowing times.  It’s also interesting to note the progression of Rose’s political views, from praising Communism to eventually protesting FDR’s New Deal programs.

Who was the real author of the famed books?  If Laura and Rose were honest from the beginning, would their books have sold so many copies?  Would there even have been an entire series or just a lone book published?  I believe that Laura and Rose left a beautiful legacy of fiction, based on truth, that has touched the lives of many grateful readers such as myself.

Grade: A

 

Shawna

I want to love this book, really love it. I loved the Little House books, I loved “watching” Laura grow up through those books. My daughter is reading On the Banks of Plum Creek right now, and enjoying it. It was very hard to read A Wilder Rose and not feel a bit of sadness. I guess I was looking more for this wonderful loving relationship between a pioneer woman and her amazingly talented and carefree daughter and how they worked together to create this incredible series of books.

There is very little of the mother/daughter relationship portrayed in this book. If that is what you are looking for, this really isn’t the book for that. The chapters of “data”, of learning how much money Rose made for each story and article bored me almost to tears and I found myself just flipping from page to page, looking for something interesting. While in the story, Rose is constantly trying to get her mother to expand on different ideas, it seems as though that is what the author should have done with this book.

If you are looking for the story of Rose’s life, her point of view on the world, you should read this book. That is exactly what this book is. I had to keep reminding myself that it is fiction, not a biography, and it should read as fiction. If I had gone into the book with the mindset that the author had written it as non-fiction biography, I think I would have had fewer of the expectations that I did and I would have enjoyed the book more.

Grade: B-

 

Cait

The Little House books are central to my early childhood memories of reading. I vividly recall devouring them in first grade, and again and again over the next six or so years (it’s probably no coincidence that I often prefer re-reads of familiar and beloved series to new books). From that perspective, I enjoyed A Wilder Rose‘s look into the process behind the books published under Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name.

From the perspective of an objective book reader, however, I was less impressed. While the book repeatedly describes the difference between Mama Bess’s dry, rote, factual drafts and Rose’s gift for editing those drafts into readable, enhanced nonfiction, A Wilder Rose reads decidedly more like the former. The framing device of Rose retelling the actual meat of the story to a younger writer in 1939 was clunky and jarring; readers interested in Rose’s story would have been better served if Albert had drawn out Rose’s time spent with her friends and surrogate sons (in New York, Albania, and on the farm) and limited the ledger-book recitation of how much she was paid for each article between 1928 and 1935. The facts and story underlying A Wilder Rose would have made a mildly diverting New Yorker feature; as it is, the book is at best uneven.

Grade: B-

 

Abby R.

I grew up on the Little House books. My mom read them to me before I could read for myself, and once I was able on my own, I read them over and over. It is no exaggeration to say that they made me the reader, and lover of books, I am today. Growing up having idolized Laura Ingalls and her pioneering family so, I jumped at the chance to read A Wilder Rose and see what I thought would be an interesting perspective on Laura’s later years and her relationship with her own daughter. What I found in the book was basically the equivalent of the Santa Claus talk for my Little House-loving inner child… the books I treasured as a girl were the ramblings of an aging mother, ghost-written by her wearily obligated daughter into the stories I know by heart? The spunky pioneer girl I always wanted to be whenever we “played Little House” was, in reality, a manipulative narcissist? Maybe I’m just naive, or too attached to the books (or maybe everybody else already knew this about Laura Ingalls Wilder and I’ve been willfully blind/living under a rock), but I didn’t take this book very well.

Taking my personal feelings out of the equation as best as I can, I also had some issues with the structure of the book. It seemed a bit choppy to intersperse Rose’s “memories” with the later dialog with her neighbor (who seemed to serve no purpose in the book other than to champion Rose and convey a crueler sentiment about Laura than the reader would have gotten strictly from Rose herself). Also, while it was interesting to read some of Rose’s actual diary entries regarding the events in question, it seemed strange to introduce them with, effectively, “As I wrote on this day, [x]…” I feel like the same information could have been woven better into the story to present a more cohesive narrative.

Overall, I didn’t love this book. From what I understand, Rose Wilder Lane lived a really fascinating life, and I think I would have been happier reading a biography that focused on her own writings and travels…

Grade: C

Add to your Goodreads Shelf

Buy from Amazon

Shop Indie Bookstores

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *