A review of Susan Wittig Albert’s forthcoming novel: “A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses”



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Text and photo (“A Little House”) by Janet Grace Riehl

Susan Wittig Albert’s historical novel “A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and their Little Houses”   is  a tour de force. With great skill she marshals an exhaustive store of research into a gripping narrative  that compellingly argues that Rose Wilder Lane was an essential creative collaborator of her mother’s famous work. The mother had the story. But it was the daughter’s skill that melded them into solid books, and her business connections that led to publication. Most of all it’s Rose’s professionalism, hard work, discipline and realism that made the books possible.

“A Wilder Rose” is a layered work laid out as an elegant as-told-to story between Rose and one of her protégées. Written in the first person, the novel feels like a memoir.  Yet, it is the truth that Tim O’Brian says fiction gets at “when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”

The lines between biography, memoir, creative nonfiction, and fiction has become an important cultural discussion—and one that memoirists seem almost haunted by. One of the larger themes in “A Wilder Rose” is the continuing discussion between Laura and Rose throughout the book of the relationship between fact and fiction. Appropriately, “Wilder Rose” plays this out in its own pages. The accompanying reader’s guide the length of a Master’s thesis provides a research commentary on the content in the novel.

So, what are the layers? First, there’s the literary mystery: “Who wrote the books?” Because the Little House on the Prairie books weren’t part of my childhood, I’m less interested in the particulars of who did what when. It’s the larger issues that draw me in:

  • What is the creative process? How are ideas formed into artistic products? How do writers make a living? What’s the difference between the amateur and the professional? What does it mean to each of the women to have their work published?
  •  In family history lies the richness of family stories. In bringing these stories to light what has to be considered?
  •  What is the role of the daughter and the mother—both in that historical context and throughout time? When those roles intertwine with the creative tasks of laying out the basic story and then shaping it through careful editing, what must be worked out (doubly).
  •  Rose was an accomplished writer by her own merits. Yet her mother’s work consumed an enormous amount of time and energy without the rewards of money or public recognition. Why did she do that? In addition to the impressive body of work she did produce, what more might she have produced if she’d been able to focus exclusively on her own work?

Albert also brings us the rich panoply of the world economic and political stage in the late 1920s and 1930s.  Her novel raises the role of women in that era, the tensions between country and city, and the changing cultures of the United States and Europe. All these worlds within worlds are brought together on its pages with such grace that we feel as if we’ve been listening to a friend’s story while sipping tea in the kitchen.

__________

Janet’s blog is Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century

2 responses to “A review of Susan Wittig Albert’s forthcoming novel: “A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses”

  1. Janet, thank you for this. I very much appreciate your definition of the four larger issues. I’m especially interested in the first one, because Rose (the professional writer) and her mother (the occasional writer) had very different understandings of the process and the product of their work. That they were able to sustain their collaboration over eight books is a testimony to the persistence and commitment of each of them. They had a remarkable partnership.

    One additional note: I decided to publish the online editions on September 1, so both the eBook and print editions are available now. The hardcover is coming in October.

    • Thanks for the update, Susan. I’ve slightly changed the opening.

      The collaboration of the professional (daughter) writer and the occasional (parent) writer is especially vivid for me. I have an M.A. in English, but my father (1915 vintage whose high school education included Latin) is far more prolific with 40 books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit. The ones in print have each been a labor of love by his children. Like his carvings, they are throughout the world. But, it’s not so easy to work together. These two types of writers come from different cultures.

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