Like millions of girls who grew up reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, I felt an affinity with Laura and the pioneer lifestyle. So when I saw The Wilder Life in a book store on my recent vacation, I bought it immediately.
I’ve since learned from reading it that there are actually several others books in publication exploring various means of “getting close” to Laura. Most by visiting the sites mentioned in the series, some by recreating recipes, to name a few.
What I didn’t know is that there is only one original building remaining from the emtire series of books – Almanzo Wilder’s childhood farm house in Upstate NY.
Ms. McClure also writes of the disparity between the books and the TV series, the latter being good entertainment, but with few historical facts. I knew that already and had come to terms with the TV show when it originally aired. I tended to keep them separate in my mind, but enjoyed both because I have always been interested in the pioneers of the western expansion, aka the Overland Trail.
The overall gist of The Wilder Life is – like returning to your own childhood home, expecting everything to be as you remembered – you can’t conjure up the Ingalls family to make them seem more real. If you’re looking for Laura in the flesh, or at least 3-D, it’s not going to happen.
What is in the way? Too much time has passed, all of their various abodes have disintegrated, land has changed hands, commercialism has infected the historical sites. One can enter a reproduction, but not original sites, although there are museums displaying the Ingalls’ artifacts.
The truth is, Laura and her family lived a godawful life for the most part. Rose, Laura’s daughter, apparently grew up to be bitter and resentful, prone to depression and other disorders. Certainly not the nice little-girl story.
I found the be book is very engrossing. It allowed me to vicariously explore what I would find, and the truths I would discover, if I were to conduct a similar search.
Recommended reading if you loved the Little House books and are ready to see the story through adult eyes.