Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
The autobiographical Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) occupy a curious space between national mythology, self-reinvention, and truth, as this overlong but engrossing biography from Fraser (Rewilding the World) makes clear. Lovers of the series will delight in learning about real-life counterparts to classic fictional episodes, but, as Fraser emphasizes, the true story was often much harsher. Meticulously tracing the Ingalls and Wilder families' experiences through public records and private documents, Fraser discovers failed farm ventures and constant money problems, as well as natural disasters even more terrifying and devastating in real life than in Wilder's writing. She also helpfully puts Wilder's narrow world into larger historical context, showing that the books' self-sufficient farmers were more dependent on federal assistance than Wilder depicted in her novels. Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, emerges as an integral character in her mother's later life. Lane, a professional author in her own right, vigorously edited her mother's manuscripts, though Fraser debunks the myth that Lane ghostwrote the books. But their relationship was a fraught one, and Fraser paints an unflattering portrait of Lane's dishonesty and descent into right-wing paranoia. She concludes by examining Wilder's pop cultural legacy. Fraser's exploration of Wilder's life opens her subject to new scrutiny, which, for Wilder's many fans, may be both exhilarating and disconcerting. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A sensitive biography of the author of Little House on the Prairie.Many books about Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) have stirred up controversy about her writing career and political views. William Holtz's The Ghost in the Little House (1993) ascribes considerable authorship to Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane; Christine Woodside's Libertarians on the Prairie (2016) presents compelling evidence for Wilder's ultraconservatism. Fraser (Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution, 2009, etc.), editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, offers a cleareyed and well-documented examination of Wilder's life, writings, and career; her relationship with Rose; and her politics. Deeply respectful of Wilder as a writer, she deems Little House on the Prairie "a classic work" and "a cultural monument" that, although fiction, tells "the truth about settlement, about homesteading," and about farmers' "astonishing feats of survival," which Wilder experienced firsthand. As a child, she was "constantly uprooted and often imperiled"; married at 18, she faced years of "exhaustion, failure, and regret." After her husband was crippled in an accident, compromising his ability to farm, Wilder, in addition to farm work, took odd jobs. When Rose, a journalist, suggested publishing as a way to make money, Wilder eagerly recorded memories of prairie life. Rose served as editor. Fraser portrays the domineering Rose as erratic, angry, depressive, and self-destructive, repeatedly causing "ruination to herself, bringing her life down around her ears." She compulsively poured money into house renovations and lavish travel, often leaving herself destitute. Like her mother, she was adamantly opposed to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal; she was anti-Semitic, "an apologist for dictatorial regimes," and a champion of Ayn Rand's work. The literary collaboration between mother and daughter was "a competition" between "Wilder's plain, unadorned, fact-based approach versus Lane's polished, dramatic, and fictionalized one. In Wilder's autobiographical work, truth' would become a battlefield." What emerged was a nostalgic life story, "reimagined as an American tale of progress," that catapulted Wilder to fame. A vivid portrait of frontier life and one of its most ardent celebrants. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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