Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Wilder Life

The title:  The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie
The author: Wendy McClure
Publication: Riverhead, 2011
Got it from: Overdrive

One of the many pleasures of owning an iPod touch is getting to download free audiobooks from the library.  In the last two years I've been able to visit several favourite children's books that I wouldn't have had time to read otherwise: Little Women, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams, Five Little Peppers, and now I'm about to start on Sidney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family.  But I also have been enjoying some non-fiction as well: Betty White's hilarious autobiography If You Ask Me..., Joseph Ellis's biography of John and Abigail Adams, First Family, and most recently Wendy McClure's entertaining The Wilder Life.

Wendy McClure was a big fan of the Little House books growing up in the 1970's.  I remember reading and enjoying them too, especially Little House in the Big Woods for its famous sugaring/country dance scene.  But I was more of a Lucy Maud Montgomery fan.  Montgomery's world was my world - a rural Maritime one - albeit separated by a gulf of 100 years.  I couldn't quite relate to Laura Ingalls Wilder's can-do prairie family, which seemed almost impossibly hardworking. 

In this book, McClure makes it her mission to try and find "Laura World," a sentiment I can fully relate to as I spent a significant portion of my childhood trying to find "Anne World."  She tries her hand at making butter in an old-fashioned churn, twisting hay at the original Ingalls homestead, and in one hilarious chapter, takes part in a homesteading weekend that turns out to be a haven for creepy religious "end-timers."  She also researches the original Ingalls family and discovers that the "Little House" world is part fact, part fiction.  I loved the author's writing style.  The narrator of the audiobook seemed to inhabit her voice and I found myself laughing out loud at some of her turns of phrase.  When describing rival Nellie Oleson, whom Laura based on several real-life girls, she calls her "some kind of blond Frankenstein assembled from assorted bitch parts."  

McClure also visits several of the real-life Ingalls sites in her quest for the real Laura experience.  Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she doesn't.  Along the way she meets other people just as obsessed with the details of pioneer life - bonnets, butter churns, corn cob dolls and all.  She even converts her real-life boyfriend to Laura World - sort of.  

Some of the reviews for this book say it's only for diehard fans, but I disagree.  I was only a mild fan, but I loved the whole idea of this book and enjoyed it from start to finish.  Anyone who has ever longed to visit inside a book as a child will love the author's adventures trying to do just that.

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