I have mixed feelings about The Wilder Life, a book-geek memoir written by Wendy McClure about her adult obsession to return to “Laura World” and recapture that elusive feeling she felt as a child reading the Little House on the Prairie books for the first time. Mostly this involves visiting the Laura sites and experiencing what she could of Laura’s world (i.e. churning butter, making hay twists, etc.). I’m a fairly devoted Little House fan, and I’ve happily passed my love for the series down to my girls. In fact, I have had my own instances of Laura-adoration, including dressing up as her for an author fair in fifth grade, detouring off our pre-planned route west on a trip to Yellowstone back in 2003 just so I could visit De Smet, S.D., and lots and lots of blog posts detailing the books’ influence on my girls’ young lives. A couple of things about The Wilder Life, as much as I could relate to it at times, drove me a bit nuts. The biggest issue I took with it is its meandering style. McClure doesn’t start at point A and arrive at point B in any clearly logical fashion; in fact, it’s not unusual to start at A and end, somehow, back at Q, by going in reverse. Although I didn’t expect this book to be a research article, she does include quite a bit of expert opinion and literary analysis (which I mostly enjoyed, an unfortunate sexualized analysis of a scene in one of the books notwithstanding). It’s just that I often couldn’t really get a firm grasp in my mind on which book she was discussing or which site she was visiting. I ended up seeing her experiences as one big, jumbled mush, especially the ones on the prairie. The other thing is, and this one probably goes without saying (especially if the profanity-related statistics in this post on McClure’s blog are any indication), I just didn’t like her tone and voice all that much. (The fact that she includes the statistics on her blog post is probably as indicative of her attitude as anything I can explain here.) The word I’ve seen used most to describe the book is “irreverent,” and though I’d never doubt McClure’s affinity for all thing Laura Ingalls Wilder, I just don’t care for her attitude toward it all.
What kept me reading a book that I had such a major gripe with? I don’t really know. Maybe it’s because I dearly love visiting museums and historical sites, so McClure’s trek across the upper midwest was like a long roadtrip I got to vicariously experience. I also learned things I didn’t know or had forgotten. The biggest one of these is that another Little House on the Prairie movie, produced by Disney, was released in 2005. How did I miss this? (Oh, I remember. I had a newborn and a toddler at the end of 2005, and I hadn’t discovered the world of blogs!) Of course, I’m (almost) always a fan of the book over the movie, but the LHotP television series played a part in my childhood, and yes, I still like it. 🙂 I’d like to track down the 2005 movie some day. The other thing that reading The Wilder Life helped me remember is just how complicated Rose Wilder Lane’s relationship with her parents was. I didn’t remember all that when I read and reviewed Let the Hurricane Roar, and while I really like to let works stand on their own merits, I can’t help but wonder if I would’ve felt the same way about it had I read The Wilder Life first.
The bottom line? This book seemed a little over-the-top for even me, a person who, for the love of Anne Shirley, traveled to Prince Edward Island (and on her honeymoon, no less). It felt to me like McClure was on some existential quest for the Ingalls family to answer all the big questions in her life, but she was still a bit snarky about it. If you like that kind of humor, you might like this book. Just don’t expect it to really give any definitive answers about, well, anything. (Riverhead Books, 2011)
**Special thanks to Janet who passed her copy of the book along to me. Although my review of it is mixed, my esteem for Janet is not. 🙂