Review: The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
If you were ever a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series—the ostensibly autobiographical novels about a pioneer girl growing up in the 19th-century Midwest—prepare to have your perceptions of the Ingalls family skewed ever so slightly. Author Wendy McClure (I’m Not the New Me) immersed herself in what she calls “Laura World” for her new book, The Wilder Life, and found the author’s story more complicated than an eight-year-old (the age that McClure was when she read the series) could have imagined.
McClure, who also pens a pop-culture column for Bust magazine, eschews a simple, biographical sketch of Wilder in favor of a Vowellian quest to dig up the truth behind the stories. She rewatches the somewhat corny Michael Landon TV series based on the books; she purchases multiple sunbonnets; she even churns butter with a churn she purchases from eBay. McClure also travels through the Midwest, visiting museums devoted to Wilder and uncovering uncomfortable facts about the Ingalls family along the way. As it turns out, pioneer life is rough; contrary to the cheerful, scrappy image projected in the books, Wilder’s life was filled with hardship, lost crops and one very cranky daughter.
While McClure chronicles all of these adventures with wry humor, the book’s appeal could also be seen as its central problem: If you’re not an admitted Little House geek already, there’s little of interest here. But those who have dreamed of wearing prairie dresses and traveling in a covered wagon will find this sojourn into Laura World enlightening.