Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fiction and Nonfiction Pairing #nonficnov

Last week I read On the Way Home, Laura Ingalls Wilder's 1894 diary of  her 650 mile trip with Almanzo (her husband) and Rose (her young daughter) from South Dakota to Mansfield, MO.  If you think a lot about the Laura/Rose collaboration on the "Little House" books (which I do, call me Bonnethead, I don't care) this is a nice specimen of both voices shown to their best advantage without one crowding out the other.

On the Way Home (published in 1962) begins with a "setting" by Rose Wilder Lane:

 Farming has been a bust for Almanzo and Laura. Rose has gone to live with Laura's parents because Laura and Almanzo have been seriously ill with diphtheria. After recovering, they have determined to leave South Dakota and settle in Mansfield, MO, which is being touted as the apple capital of the world. Almanzo is picking up work here and there, and Laura is back making buttonholes for a dollar a day. Finally, they have enough saved for the trip and a down payment on some property. They pack the wagon, say goodbye to the Ingalls family and they're off.

The next section is Laura's diary, in which she wrote a few lines every day. On the whole, it's a no-frills account, sober reporting. Laura makes note of how much hay is going for in each town, as well as the price of an acre. She also gives her sometimes tart impressions of the people they meet and the states they pass through. She didn't care a bit for Nebraska, but loved Kansas. At one point, she says that if she and "Manly" don't like Missouri, they will come back to Kansas.

For a child, this would be eye-crossingly boring reading, but I've gotten to an age at which I enjoy Laura's plain, unadorned voice here as well as in The First Four Years and Pioneer Girl. This newfound appreciation in no way diminishes my love for the "Little House" series, but some of the pings and flourishes seem intrusive now.

After the Wilders get to Mansfield, Laura's diary ends and Rose's narrative picks up again, which is a good thing because there was some real-life drama which gives the book some needed tension. Rose reins herself in, minimizing the pings and flourishes. She's a wonderful, powerful storyteller.

Little House on Rocky Ridge by Roger Lea MacBride is the fictionalized version of On the Way Home. MacBride was Rose's lifelong friend and the executor of her estate. He did an admirable job of capturing the tone of the original books written by Laura and Rose.

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