Saturday, July 08, 2006

The First Four Years

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Memoir, Children's

My mother did not own a copy of this book along with the rest of the Little House series. "It's too sad," she said, and while that is a justification for not owning it, the real justification is that it was unfinished, a manuscript found in Laura's papers after her death.

In this book, which opens with a reiteration of the events of the last part of the previous book, the trials that Laura and her husband Almanzo ("Manly") had to face are laid out, and they are harsh. Hail, grasshoppers, debt, fire, and the death of their second child all seem to make their lives harsh and unwelcoming. Worse, the storytelling is almost an outline, a sparse recounting of events that lack the descriptive flourishes that make her previous novels so beloved. One gets the sense that Laura would have fleshed out the book had she a chance, and perhaps extended it to the bitter end of their time in the Dakotas, when they lost everything and moved to the Ozarks.

One could also hope that she would have then continued the story from Rocky Ridge Farm, where they lived for the rest of their lives, but she was over ninety by then, so we should be grateful that she wrote as many books as she had. Skip this book and confine yourself to the earlier ones; her biographies do a better job of explaining the rest of her life.


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