Growing up I developed a healthy appetite for reading from a series of books you may have heard of before: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you aren’t familiar, let me enlighten you. They were a series of books that were the memoirs of Laura’s life as a child growing up on the American frontier.
The Wilder Life chronicles Wendy McClure’s journey to, as she puts it, live the “Laura experience”. Retracing the steps of the Ingalls family as they moved across a growing America, McClure attempts to put herself literally in the shoes of Laura Ingalls and her family. She visits Wisconsin looking for the “Big Woods” that Laura grew up in, as chronicled in Little House in the Big Woods. She finds the real Plum Creek, and even seeks out the annual summer pageants held in Laura’s hometown. From churning butter to standing in a hail storm in South Dakota, McClure goes beyond traditional fandom to totally immerse herself in what it must have been like for Laura to grow up in the late 1800’s. McClure, like Laura, faces trying times, and physically and emotionally must deal with hardships along the way. However, she emerges a new person, having a greater appreciation for Laura and the pioneers like her that braved the wilderness of America to settle and prosper.
For those of you that are intrigued by this book I must warn you that even as a lover of the Little House books I still found myself confused and lost at parts. McClure is obviously a huge fan of the novels as she remembers details both large and small from the series. This attention to detail in a series that I haven’t read in over 15 years had me missing some of the connections that were trying be made. I understood the greater meaning of the connections, but unfortunately wasn’t able to take as much pleasure from them as I would have liked.
I found a lot of repetition in the book as well. McClure writes of an overall disappointment in continuing to meet people in the Little House world that confuse what happened in the TV series versus the books. It’s almost as though she can’t understand that not everyone around her has their memories of the books and TV series separated. I’ll be the first person to admit that I was a fan of both, and sometimes forget what happened in which story.
McClure is an extremely funny and poignant writer and ties all of her thoughts on modern-day living to a Little House on the Prairie themed point. This made me begin to look at the things around me in my own life, and ponder what Laura would have thought about them if she were alive today. The novel as a whole is an interesting look at the Little House fandom and what’s become of the places that you come to know and love in Laura’s books.
3 out of 5 Stars