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The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

Review

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie

Though first published just over 75 years ago, the Little Housebooks, whose action begins in the late 1870s, are most often associated with the 1970s. It was then that their popularity exploded based in part on the Michael Landon television series. A generation of American children, especially young girls, came to know and love the characters as described by author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wendy McClure was no exception. She often found herself lost in thoughts of "Laura World," and cherished not just the figure of Laura but all the details of late 19th- and early 20th-century life that the series of novels depicts. In her latest book, THE WILDER LIFE, McClure explores the general attraction to the books, the television sensation, the world of Little House fans, and her own personal connections to all of it.

Part memoir, part literary criticism and part sociological exploration, THE WILDER LIFE takes a look at the Little Housephenomena from several angles. McClure re-reads the series, and reads the companion books  Wilder wrote later as well as the country lifestyle columns she published. McClure churns butter and cooks recipes from Little House cookbooks. And she travels to various Little House sites in the hopes of experiencing, or at least catching a glimpse of, what she calls "Laura World." Along the way she examines the sometimes fine line between fiction and nonfiction and the way stories can have many interpretations depending on perspective.

While the Little House books are often understood as memoir, those very familiar with Wilder's series understand she took many liberties in telling her life story. But one of McClure's most interesting revelations is how the stories are read in such a variety of ways. For her, they were always adventures set in a nearby but foreign reality, but for some they are manuals on how to live a simpler life. McClure, on one road trip, even comes across a group of religious doomsday survivalists when she was just hoping to learn about farming.

Funny and thoughtful and occasionally strange, THE WILDER LIFE both telescopes in on the Little House series and on the personal life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but also transcends them. Often very personal but never losing sight of the universality of the subject, McClure has made an obsession with the life of a pioneer girl exciting and provocative.

Across the Midwest and western states, McClure traveled, following the path Laura Ingalls Wilder left. From sun bonnets to lunch boxes, from covered wagons to Plum Creek, from television merchandising to old farmhouses, it seems Laura left her mark on our culture. And McClure, for her part, is an engaging and astute narrator to catalog and dissect, ponder and cherish what remains of Laura's legacy. THE WILDER LIFE is wildly engaging and totally fascinating.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 14, 2011

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
by Wendy McClure

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2012
  • Genres: Memoir
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade
  • ISBN-10: 1594485682
  • ISBN-13: 9781594485688