Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

A Wilder Rose

Blurb: 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. To make life easier, she built them a new home, while she and Helen Boylston transformed the farmhouse into a rural writing retreat and filled it with visiting New Yorkers. Rose sold magazine stories to pay the bills for both households, and despite the subterranean tension between mother and daughter, life seemed good.

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. Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House books—the collaboration that Rose and Laura deliberately hid from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers.

Why did the two women conceal their writing partnership? What made them commit what amounts to one of the longest-running deceptions in American literature? And what happened in those years to change Rose from a left-leaning liberal to a passionate Libertarian?

In this impeccably researched novel and with a deep insight into the book-writing business gained from her own experience as an author and coauthor, Susan Wittig Albert follows the clues that take us straight to the heart of this fascinating literary mystery.

My Review: I've been a passionate fan of Little House of the Prairie in it's various forms for the majority of my life. Some of my prized possessions include the complete television series on dvd in a covered wagon box set, and a covered wagon plant holder that holds my Little House book series set, biographies of the television stars, and various books on Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I heard earlier this year that an historical novel based on the relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose was planned by one of my favorite mystery authors, Susan Wittig Albert, I excitedly featured it as one of my Waiting on Wednesday features. You can just imagine my delight when shortly after the author emailed me and asked if I would be interested in receiving an early review copy!

The novel begins in 1939, where we find Rose living in Danbury, Connecticut with a young couple. The wife is an aspiring writer and begs Rose for details about her life story. From here we are taken back to Rose's happy years with her friend Troub (who would later write the Sue Barton books) in Albania before being called home to her parents' farm. Already a successful writer investing her money wisely, she encourages her parents to do the same - then comes the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

Feeling responsible for her aging parents and finding it more difficult to find good writing assignments herself, Rose begins to feel trapped by her responsibilities, unable to return to the life she had grown accustomed to. When Laura writes a memoir based on her childhood and asks Rose's opinion as to how it could be published, Rose instantly sees it needs extreme editorial work. Thus begins the secret collaboration between mother and daughter as they write a series of beloved children's books and the eternal question of who the true author was.

This is one of the best historical novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Based on diaries, journals and letters, it's instantly possible to imagine the lives of these two women playing out exactly as written. Rose's story is compelling on it's own - a woman before her time, world traveller, political activist - but added to a narrative about her world famous mother, classic children's literature, and one of the most fascinating periods in world history, this book is practically unputdownable. It will forever have a place of honor among my cherished collection of Little House on the Prairie memorabilia.

Please visit the book's website for additional information about Rose and Laura, their "little houses", and pre-order instructions.

I received an advance copy of this book from the author with the request for a review.


susanalbert said...

Melissa, thank you for this thoughtful reading of ROSE. I'm so glad it has found a place in your Laura collection!

Susan Wittig Albert

Jeanette said...

I agree that it is one of the best historical novels...interesting, informative, and a great story.

Tiffany Leiter said...

I cannot wait! I thought I knew all there was to know until now.