Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

I knew that Laura Ingalls Wilder had a daughter Rose Wilder.  I figured that Rose grew up and with her husband and children continued the family tradition of farming.  Then in her middle years, inspired by her mother, Rose may have tried to get something published but as we all know her mother was the talent in the family.

Or do we?  Because in her splendid novel A Wilder Rose, Susan Wittig Albert (best known for her China Bayles mystery series) raises the question, was Rose Wilder the real author of the Little House books?  At the very least should she have had co-authorship with her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, based on the amount of editing and rewriting Rose may have done? It's a question the literary world continues to speculate about.

Mainly though, a Wilder Rose introduces us to a fascinating woman who Iived an extraordinary life.  Born in 1886 Rose was a woman ahead of her time.  In her 20's she was a newpaper reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin.  After World War 1 Rose travelled through Europe as a reporter for the Red Cross.  Her short stories and aricles appeared regularly in the Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, the Saturday Evening Post etc.  A few of her short stories were nominated for the O'Henry Award.  Rose Wilder's personal life equally as interesting.  She was married but she and her husband Gillette Lane eventually split up.  Her other serious relationship was with Helen Dore Boylston (who would eventually write the popular Sue Barton Student Nurse series) Rose and Helen lived together for six years, two of those years in Albania a country Rose fell in love with during her reporting for the Red Cross and never wanted to leave.

But then in 1929 the stock market crashed and the money Rose had invested, her life savings earned from writing, was wiped out. Her parents farm was also failing and since her father's health was not good Rose moved back home to try to support both herself and her parents the only way she knew how, by writing.  It was during this time according to the novel that Laura Ingalls Wilder who always wanted to be a writer but possibly didn't have the talent conceived the idea for the Little House books.

A Wilder Rose has been described by Kirkus Review as "pitch perfect"and Publisher's Weekly gave the book a Starred Review.  I recommend A Wilder Rose and an added bonus is that a good part of the novel is Rose recounting what the 1930's were like, the Great Depression and how she and her friends in the literary world got by after the magazine and book publishing industry dried up. Living in the Midwest, Rose also tells us about the Dustbowl and the devastation that wreaked on farmers.  We learn about the romanticized view the Little House books and the TV series gave with regard to what Charles, Caroline. Mary, Laura and Carrie Ingalls faced as they tried to eek out a living on a Kansas farm in the 1870's.

After finishing A Wilder Rose I decided to read Little House in the Big Woods the first book in the Little House On the Prairie series and though it's a children's classic I would recommend it for all ages.  It's a beautifully written book and all the more reason that Rose Wilder if she was the co-author should have her name on the cover.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How the West Was Won by Louis L'Amour

I am a fan of the TV series Bonanza.  I also enjoy reruns of Gunsmoke and The Rifleman so you would think I would like Western novels but I don't as a rule. I find them rather dry and the heroes two dimensional  However, a year or two ago I was watching the movie How The West Was Won starring Debbie Reynolds, Caroll Baker, Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck.  The movie begins in the 1840's and takes the characters on through to the 1880's and you get to see pivotal points in the history of the American West along the way.  I enjoyed the movie and then a few weeks ago I found out that Louis L'Amour had written a Western based on the film and now having finished the book I can say it was an informative and enjoyable reading experience, just like the movie.  Louis L'Amour is a prolific writer (100 novels and 250 short stories) and he is talented.  He's a big name in the Western genre along with such writers as Zane Grey, Max Brand, Larry McMurty, Owen Wister etc.

How the West Was Won tells the story of the Prescott family, specifically the Prescott daughters, Eve and Lilith.  The Prescotts are heading West in the early 1840's when the novel begins.  Like many families they are hoping for a better life but tragedy strikes early on when the parents, Zebulon and Rebecca are killed as the family is crossing the Ohio river. This will leave the Prescott children Eve, Lilith, Sam and Zeke on their own and as the novel progresses through the 1850's, 1860's, 1870's and 1880's the focus is on Lilith and Eve.  Eve marries Linus Rawlings a mountain man and they settle in the midwest to farm and raise a family.  Lilith a free spirit becomes a singer in dance halls and marries Cleve Van Halen a gambler and business man and they settle in San Francisco.

The novel is divided into five chapters (The River, The Plains, The War (Civil War), The Iron Horse (The Railroad) and the Outlaw and each chapter moves you forward in the journey of Eve, Lilith, their husbands and Eve's son Zeb Rawlings who becomes a marshall in Arizona in the 1880's.  Louis L'Amour knows the west, it's history, its key figures and he's a good writer which is the most important part.  If you have never read a Western but are curious about the genre I would say that How The West Was Won, either the film or the novel is a good place to begin.