Thursday, August 8, 2013

First Chapter Review: A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

When I learned about A Wilder Rose by Susan Witting Albert, I downloaded a version of the book from NetGalley to my Kindle. I've been a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan since childhood. Not much has been written about Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane's relationship. The Ghost in the Little House is the most comprehensive biography on Lane I've found.

I actually missed that Albert's book is a novel based upon Lane's unpublished diaries and Wilder's letters when I opted to download it. Though the word appears in the NetGalley description and the official description from the author's website, it also states this is the "true" story of Lane and gets to the "heart of this fascinating literary mystery," which was the secret collaboration between Lane and her mother to produce the Little House books.

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 Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House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

COVER: Absolutely beautiful. The Rocky Ridge Farm image, the colorful rose, and the perfect colored text make this an attractive cover. Kudos to this designer.

FIRST CHAPTER: After an author's note that sets the tone for this novel, the reader finds herself in the kitchen of Rose Wilder Lane's Danbury, Connecticut home on King Street. It's April 1939, and Rose has just completed a letter that commits her to finishing the rewrite of By the Shores of Silver Lake. 

Her close friends, Norma Lee and her husband Russell Ogg, are staying for an extended visit. Norma Lee begs Rose to tell her the story of how she became involved in helping her mother with her children's series and why she's done it. With much prodding and a desire to understand it all herself, Rose agrees.

KEEP READING:  My fascination with Wilder means I'll finish the book, no matter how I personally feel about the angle it is taking. Unfortunately, just like Holtz did with Ghost in the Little House, Albert must portray Wilder as an unskilled writer in order to prove that Lane should be listed as co-author of the series. I'm also curious why this is written as a novel instead of as a piece of non-fiction. Perhaps it's because Holtz already approached it that way and because this allowed the author more freedom to explore the events within the scope of her own imagination. She does mention expanding and dramatizing storylines in her author's note.

I'm afraid I am a bit biased on this one, because I have enjoyed the work of Melanie Benjamin, who fictionalized the real lives of the Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the basis of Alice from Alice in Wonderland), Mercy Lavinia "Vinnie" Bump (Mrs. Tom Thumb), and Charles Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow, but am struggling with A Wilder Rose. Perhaps it's because I didn't know these real people as well as I've come to know the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Or maybe, I'm still holding out hope that an author can shed light on Lane and Wilder's collaboration without needing to decimate Wilder's reputation.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780989203517
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0-9892035-0-0
Release date: October 1, 2013

I downloaded this digital book from NetGalley. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

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