Tuesday, August 6, 2013

REVIEW: A WILDER ROSE by Susan Wittig Albert

Title: A Wilder Rose
Author: Susan Wittig Albert
Publisher: Persevero Press
Publication Date: September 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Guest Reviewer: Margitte
Source: Received for review
Margitte’s smiley rating: 5/5


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 Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House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.


The novel is based on the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane and highlights the years between 1928 and 1939. A more compelling, fascinating blend of fact and fiction could not have been written by these two remarkable women behind Little House on the Prairie and the rest of the books in the Little House Series.

Sometimes we need to use fiction to tell the truth. Sometimes fiction tells a truer story than facts."

As an editor once said to me: "Do not allow the truth to spoil a good story." And it is true of the Little House Series as being one of the best to ever come out of American literature and became popular in just about the entire world, as well as of this novel.

Ghostwriting is also not a cut and paste reality. Sometimes it is done openly, other times there are excellent editors without whom many books would never have seen the light of day and whom are seldom mentioned, as is still happening to this day. There are also ghostwriters who nowadays claim their piece of the cake.

So if anybody suspected anything at the time, nobody was going to blow the whistle."
Readers and librarians and teachers and schoolchildren loved the idea of an author who, as a little girl, had lived an adventurous life on the American prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder was good for business."

Many excellent storytellers are not excellent writers, that we know. This was the case with Laura Ingalls Wilder as well. "
Mama Bess was an oral storyteller. She could recall dozens of stories about her family's pioneer wanderings, but when she wrote them down, they sounded like...well, they sounded like stories told by your favorite grandmother in front of the fire on a winter's night, without--as George Bye, Rose's agent, had once said --"the benefit of perspective or theater."

This novel, however, is the story behind the story. Of two women both set up to rule the roost, like mother like daughter, and the power struggles that ensued."
She (Laura) and I (Rose) were like neighboring states with a long history, with shared and very porous boundaries, she constantly invading, I continually repelling."

If it wasn't for Rose accidentally burning down their house as a little girl, and the fall of the Stock Market in 1929, this duo would never have taken place and the popular series would never have been written.

This novel explains in detail how it came about in a very well-written, compassionate tale.

Rose thought she had a responsibility towards her parents, but in the end, thanks to the actions of John, one of her adoptive sons, she finally learnt the truth behind her own choices : 

Generosity as a means of controlling is no gift at all. It's a curse."

It was the years of Depression, drought, hardship and hope in which these two women were forced to live and survive together, trying to get small town morals (Laura) married to a cosmopolitan lifestyle (Rose). They looked backwards while trying to move forward. "
Slowly, slowly, and little by little, Glory to your lips. It is so." 

It would take eleven years of survival in dire economic conditions and harsh world politics for Rose to grow from a staunch Liberal to Libertarian. "
Every American is governed only by the principle of personal responsibility and that his or her most important freedom is the absolute freedom to flourish or fail." 

Rose wrote about herself: "
I am now a fundamentalist American. Give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez-faire, and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the possibilities for the development of the human spirit."

This book is about all of the above, but also about mothers and daughters, of bonding and hardships, politics and war, droughts and endurance. And pride.

Mark Twain: "Don't part with your illusions; when they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live."

It is much much more than just biographical fiction.
I recommend it wholeheartedly. What an absolute thought-provoking, yet delightful, spell-bounding experience!


A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert has 18 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.


I live in the Hill Country of Central Texas, on 31 acres. I garden for food (passionately), raise chickens, and practice the fiber arts. I am concerned about issues of global warming, energy depletion, and food production.

In October, 2013, I'll publish A Wilder Rose, a novel about the mother-daughter team that produced the Little House books, based on the diaries and journals of Rose Wilder Lane and the letters of her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am continuing my two mystery series: the China Bayles Herbal Mysteries and The Darling Dahlias, about a Southern garden club in the 1930s. You might also enjoy my eight-book series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the series that my husband Bill Albert and I coauthored under the pseudonym of Robin Paige. You can find out more about my life in my memoirs: Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place; and An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days.


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1 comment:

susanalbert said...

Thanks for this thoughtful reading of A WILDER ROSE and the care you put into this review. I appreciate it!