- Paperback: 302 pages
- Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (March 17, 2015)
The Little House books, which chronicled the pioneer adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, are among the most beloved books in the American literary canon. Lesser known is the secret, concealed for decades, of how they came to be. Now, bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert reimagines the fascinating story of Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, an intrepid world traveler and writer who returned to her parents’ Ozark farm, Rocky Ridge, in 1928. There she began a collaboration with her mother on the pioneer stories that would captivate generations of readers around the world.
Despite the books’ success, Rose’s involvement would remain a secret long after both women died. A vivid account of a great literary deception, A Wilder Rose is a spellbinding tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship set against the brutal backdrop of the Great Depression.
Buy, read, and discuss A Wilder Rose
Susan Wittig Albert grew up in Illinois, earned her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, and served as an English professor and university administrator at the University of Texas, Tulane University, and Texas State University. A New York Times bestselling author, she has written over fifty mysteries in four different series, as well as other adult fiction, nonfiction, and books for young adults. She lives with her husband, Bill, on thirty-one acres in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, reads, and pursues her other passions: gardening, raising chickens, and doing needlework. She is the founder of the Story Circle Network, an international organization dedicated to helping women tell their stories.
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I’ve been a fan of the Little House books since I learned how to read, and then I married a man who was raised half an hour from DeSmet, South Dakota. I have walked the banks of Plum Creek (what’s left of it), experienced a winter nearly as cold as the one depicted in The Long Winter, and toured the Little Town on the Prairie more than once. As I grew older, I dove into Laura the person, as opposed to Laura the character, and I’ve read a good number of the books about her.
I’m hardly a scholarly expert on all things Laura, but I’m probably better informed than the average reader, so I came to Susan Wittig Albert’s novel – and it’s important to remember that it is a novel – knowing that the books were much more a collaboration than most readers probably knew. I also came to her novel with a great amount of curiosity about Rose Wilder Lane, herself. I mean, I knew she was a journalist, was instrumental in the founding of the libertarian political movement, and had never had any children that survived past infancy, but the details of her life were largely unknown to me.
In A Wilder Rose Albert gives us a glimpse at one part of Rose’s life – the part surrounding the creation and publication of her mother’s stories, told partly in Rose’s voice, and partly in the voice of a young journalist interviewing Rose. I’m not sure the split perspective was necessary, but it did make an interesting counterpoint. The dialogue and characterization felt appropriate for the period for the most part, but I found her depiction of Laura to be a bit more prim and simpery than the Laura I know from other, scholarly books about her, and I feel like she lost a bit of opportunity to delve into Rose’s personality a bit more deeply. I’ve personally always wondered if Rose was a lesbian – I know this is a common speculation – but Albert didn’t touch on that at all, and I sort of wish she had.
Obviously, when you’re writing a novel about a real person, you have to balance what is right for the story with what is right for history, and ultimately Albert did that, giving us a Rose who is very much her own person, while still being absolutely her mother’s daughter. As the daughter of a woman who has a forceful personality, I know what it’s like to feel somewhat overshadowed. As a creative person in my own right, I know how difficult any kind of collaboration can be.
I’ve seen many reviews take issue with Albert’s depiction of Rose as the driving force behind the Little House… books, basically stating that she was more ghostwriter than editor. I’ve seen material to support her view, and to support a less hands-on approach, and really, I don’t think it matters. This is, after all, a novel, not a scholarly treatise. It offers a possible working relationship that is plausible and interesting, and way more than just ‘behind the scenes of the Laura books.’
Most people who read this novel are probably fans of either LIW’s books or the old NBC series. If that’s the case, their enjoyment of this novel is dependent not on their vision of Rose, but on whether they see Laura-the-writer as a literary icon, or an aging human being with a vast store of memories. My own opinion is that this novel is a really enjoyable read, and really, that’s what’s important.
Goes well with buttered popcorn and crisp apple cider.