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 Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House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.
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I checked every one out time and time again from my grade school library. The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder could not be read enough. A touchstone to my childhood and love of the printed word, they became a part of me. Our family also enjoyed the TV series that followed some years later. Perhaps it was my desire to be loved the way Laura was loved as a child which caused my fascination with her stories.
When Susan Wittig Albert asked if I would review her book about Laura and her daughter, Rose, I felt a thrill and a momentary glimpse into those days of reading the Little House books under the sycamore in front of our house.
Previously, I had read snippets here and there along the lines of Rose assisting her mother’s writing efforts. After all, Laura was 65 when the first book was published. That fact alone made me nervous as at age 67, I’m writing my first book. However, the reason given for Laura’s need for Rose’s writing expertise was that Laura’s writing was not polished and crisp, nor as detailed and descriptive as most publishers would require.
Rose, on the other hand, had been writing for almost 20 years and was a highly successful writer. She had been published in magazines, newspapers and had even published several books by the time she returned home to help her parents.
Using Rose’s unpublished diaries and letters and her published works, together with manuscripts and printed texts of the Little House books and the biography written by William Holtz entitled, The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane (1993), Ms. Albert has succeeded in bringing together not only a history of the Wilders in later life and Rose’s life and friends, but also the history of the era in which they were living when Laura’s writing was most active. As a work of historical fiction, A Wilder Rose is well substantiated by the resources Ms. Albert has used.
I immediately identified with the relationship between Rose and her mother, having lived a very similar life with my mother. The tension between them is hard to delineate and place responsibility because they are each strong and spirited women, both seemingly intelligent and desirous of independence, and yet dependent on one another for affirmation and validation. How they possibly worked through Laura’s books without completely destroying their relationship is amazing!
More amazing than that fact is Ms. Albert’s completed work. A Wilder Rose is a fascinating look at the result of several years of research and writing culminating in a genuinely interesting glimpse at a family in transition due to a number of circumstances, including individual, familial and national changes. In the midst of those circumstances, Laura and Rose manage to collaborate, if you will, on Laura’s Little House series and bring to the reading public a treasured and timeless series of books well settled in our nation’s history of its people crossing to and establishing homes in the plains.
My Recommendation: For anyone who loves Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie Books and would like to know more about the Wilders beyond those books, for anyone with an interest in the subject of ghostwriting and collaboration and how Rose pulled it all off, and for anyone who loves historical fiction, this book is a must read.
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Meet the Author:
Susan Wittig Albert’s award-winning fiction, which has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.
Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); With Courage and Common Sense; Writing from Life: Telling the Soul’s Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman’s Guide to Success Off the Career Track.
She is founder and past president of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.
Visit Susan Wittig Albert at any of the links appearing on her website.
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NOTE: I extend my thanks to Ms. Albert for providing me with an ARC of A Wilder Rose via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Additionally, Ms. Albert has written A Reader’s Companion to A Wilder Rose. As an advanced reader, Ms. Wilder also provided me with a copy of the Companion. It was most helpful and interesting as I read the book.
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