Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fiction Review: A Wilder Rose

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. 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.

A Wilder Rose

Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Their Little Houses

Wittig Albert, Susan (2013). [Genre: Historical fiction]

Disclaimer: I recieved an e-copy of this title for review thanks to Persvero Press. All opinions are my own.


I've read a few fiction books by Susan Wittig Albert before and enjoyed them well enough and I loved the Little House series as a child, so it was a nice surprise to discover that Wittig Albert has written a biographical novel about Rose Wilder Lane (the much less famous and in many ways much more interesting daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder) and her relationship with her mother.

The novel is strong in many ways. It's extremely well written, with a nice lyrical tone that never feels forced – always a danger when you are putting fictional words into the mouths of real life people. It's also obviously very well researched. There's even an extensive research list available, which I always love to see in historical novels. It's just reassuring that you can verify that the author hasn't made it all up!

However, there were also many elements of this one I just couldn't bring myself to like and unfortunately they tipped the scale. Wittig Albert seems to emphasise the difficulties of Lane and Wilder's relationship to the extent that they both come across as extremely unlikable. Wilder is portrayed as an extremely ungrateful and unloving mother, while Lane is obsessive and lacks sense. I realise that there is truth in the portrayal, but I feel that if their relationship was truly as bad as Wittig Albert portrays they wouldn't have been talking to each other, let alone collaborating on novels. There is also an underlying accusatory tone towards Ingalls Wilder – as if Wittig Albert is a campaigner for Rose to have credit for the Little House series, rather than a novelist. Even if Wittig Albert's portrayal is completely accurate and Rose Wilder Lane was responsible for the bulk of the content, Laura Ingalls Wilder's name on the novels is the result of an agreement between mother and daughter.

The final straw for me was Wittig Albert's barely veiled suggestion that Wilder Lane's relationship with her female companion of many years, Helen Dore Boylston, went far beyond friendship. It is certainly the relationship Wittig Albert portrays as most significant aside from mother and daughter. One of my pet HATES is the retrospective assigning of homosexuality upon historical figures without cause (just to be clear, I cast no judgements on homosexuality itself here). As far as I can discern from a half hour of research, there is not a shred of evidence for such a claim, which is probably why Wittig Albert does not state it categorically. One has to remember that at the time it was quite normal, even expected, for unmarried women to be permanent companions – this in itself is not a good enough reason for insinuating more.

Overall: A well written and well researched biographical novel, but for the reasons above, not to my personal taste. 2/5 Stars.

A Wilder Rose is released 1st October 2013

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