A Wilder Rose is a polarizing book about the strained relationship between Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Passionate and charming on one hand while troubling and pretentious on the other, it was both a pleasure and a struggle to read. At times, put off by Rose’s pretentious and disconnected attitude, I would struggle to read through some passages and chapters in the book. At other times, emotionally invested in the strained relationship between mother and daughter I devoured the pages one after the other anxious to see how their relationship would evolve. Ultimately, a childhood image has been tainted yet more of the truth has been revealed. The truth is always best, which is why I can’t help but recommend this book.
As wonderful as young Laura was during the Little House books she is depicted as a controlling and manipulative woman in A Wilder Rose. While beloved in her town of Mansfield and a member of many local clubs Laura is depicted by Rose as always being emotionally distant. Rose mentions in her diaries that due to their poverty she went without pretty dresses, shoes, and other trinkets and treasures that other little girls were privileged to have while growing up. She is sent to school barefoot while wearing a feedsack dress, envious of the girls with patent leather shoes and satin-trimmed dresses. Laura (or Mama Bess as Rose called her) and Almanzo worked hard to provide for their daughter but had to work long hours, away from their daughter, in order to meet the minimum needs for their little family. Rose mentions repeatedly that she longed for affection, signs of love, or just a few precious minutes of attention from her parents. She develops resentment which lasts long into her adulthood with implications that she passes away still harboring negative feelings toward her mother.
Rose leaves home at 17, graduates from college, moves to San Francisco and begins a career as a journalist and writer. Throughout her life she travels frequently. She lives, for a time, in Albania before returning to the United States at the request of her mother. This is where the majority of the story picks up and where Rose first begins to explain how she became involved in ghostwriting the Little House books for her mother. Haunted by the never-ceasing guilt of burning down the family home when she was but a toddler, Rose continually gives in to her mother’s demands and requests although she is incessantly bitter. As the story progressed I found Rose to be pretentious, inconsiderate and self-righteous. While living on her parent’s Rocky Ridge farm she has visitors she knows her parents dislike, is apathetic toward her mother’s concern that townspeople are gossiping about their family and consistently wallows in her own self-pity for being unable to travel. Understandably she is depressed, as this does occur during the Great Depression, however I found her constant negativity to be frustrating. This story is based upon Rose Wilder Lane’s diaries and journals therefore it’s not the Susan Wittig Albert’s fault that Rose is, at times, so unlikable. It is simply a reflection of Rose’ genuine mental and emotional state at this time.
Throughout the entire book I felt conflicted. Did I like Rose or did I find her obnoxious? Could I continue to love Laura as I did as a child reading the Little House books or has this forever tainted my image of that little dark-haired girl in the calico dresses? When I finally closed the cover and reflected on this book I can finally see the journey of three generations of people in early America. Charles and Caroline Ingalls moved repeatedly always pursuing Charles’ dream of farming and seeking a better life for their family. Laura eventually marries Almanzo and settles on their little farm of Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, Missouri. While their farm never became the success that they had dreamed they did live a long and, I hope, relatively happy life there. Rose never finds personal happiness with a husband and children of her own but she does resume her grandfather’s desire to travel and she does see the world. It is a uniquely intimate perspective on the lives of American settlers from the late 1800’s through the Great Depression.
Review by Ashley LaMarClosed the Cover