A Wilder Rose

Written by Susan Wittig Albert
Review by Jessica Brockmole

Rose Wilder Lane grew up listening to her mother’s stories of a struggling childhood in a succession of little houses on the prairie. She’s determined not to know such poverty herself and devotes herself to an ultimately successful writing career. When the Depression threatens her parents’ farm, she encourages her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, to write down her life story. That initial manuscript becomes the basis for the familiar series of children’s books. But, in Albert’s novel, it is Rose who is the driving force behind it all. Unable to resist rewriting and restructuring, she heavily edits her mother’s drafts before they are sent to the publisher, working behind the scenes but, initially, letting each manuscript go out with none but Laura’s name on it. In time Rose begins to regret this decision, resenting her mother’s dependence on her editing skills, as well as the success with no credit given to Rose herself.

It’s well accepted that Rose had a hand in the creation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Just how strong a hand is a question that has been up for debate. Albert takes the stance—controversial among fans of the beloved children’s series—that Rose was the primary, and uncredited, author. Regardless, Rose is challenging as a narrator. She’s arrogant, impatient, and often unabashedly high-handed. Rose claims that her mother tells rather than shows and sets about adding in those vivid details that turns a narrative into a story. Somewhat ironically, Albert structures her own novel with a similar format of telling instead of showing. It presents Rose’s later life as a series of events and bitterly-held grudges, but, at least for this reader, never quite brings her story to life.