Friday, October 10, 2014

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

Reviewed by Kristin

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert is the true story of the life of Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the beloved Little House books.  While the book is technically fiction, Albert researched this volume through Rose's unpublished journals and correspondence with family and friends.  Rose's true contributions to the writing of the Little House books becomes much clearer, and very understandable as she did believe that her mother “Mama Bess” had a story to tell.

Laura's writing of her childhood memories were first compiled in a manuscript she called “Pioneer Girl”, but the narrative was rough and wandering, more like a stream of anecdotes that a grandmother might recount while sitting beside the fire on a cold winter night.  Laura gave Rose her stories written on pads of paper and Rose typed these, doing some rough edits along the way.  Although Laura believed it could be published without major editing as her true story, Rose, (already a prolific published author of fiction, short stories and magazine articles,) believed that the work needed to be shaped, expanded in some areas and trimmed in others.  As anyone who has a “mother knows best” parent might realize, Rose's desire to edit her mother's work caused more than a few disagreements between the women.

Another trying element in the family dynamic was that the farm at Rocky Ridge was not profitable, and Almanzo was no longer able to work as strenuously as he had as a young man.  Rose had income from her writing and was able to give her parents an annual subsidy for the farm to survive.  However, the years covered in this novel were 1928-1939, making the 1929 stock market crash a major factor in how both Rose and Laura felt motivated to write and to publish their stories.

Rose was such an interesting character, having lived in New York, San Francisco and Europe.  The thread that I followed through the book was that she was a caretaker, always wanting to provide for her parents, her friends, and several young men she viewed as sons.  Once married and divorced, Rose surrounded herself with good women friends, even as her mother did not particularly approve of the more cosmopolitan writers who would come and stay at Rocky Ridge for months at a time.  Rose also was known as one of the founders of the libertarian movement in the United States.  She did not believe in government handouts and felt that people should work hard and help each other.

Albert has done an exceptional job in writing the story of Rose Wilder Lane.  After reading this, I appreciate the lives and writing of both Rose and Laura even more than I did simply as a reader of the Little House books.  A Wilder Rose also makes me look forward to the November 2014 publication of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography edited by Pamela Smith Hill, which promises to include a wider view of Laura's life through previously unpublished material.

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