The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

Little House

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the PrairieThe Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a must read for any Little House lover. From the very beginning, I was chuckling at the all too familiar details Wendy McClure brought up from the depths of my Little House memories:

“I liked books that had pictures of toast in them. Well, not just toast, but, you know, cups and ladles and baskets and hats, loving rendered, all in their places in a room or even just in little vignettes, but at any rate, things, in all their thinginess.”

She goes on to correct herself that there actually aren’t any pictures of toast in the Little House books, and toast doesn’t even appear in the series until the sixth book, The Long Winter. And even then it’s “eaten plain or dipped in tea for the next five months and two hundred pages, and the flour that they make the bread from in the first place is ground from seed wheat in the coffee mill with the little iron hopper and the tiny wooden drawer.”

The scary thing is that I knew this.

We also shared the similar childhood daydream of ‘showing Laura Ingalls around’. This is how it would work: some time warp would make it possible for Laura Ingalls to appear in your backyard one summer afternoon and it’s your duty to show her indoor plumbing, McDonald’s Happy Meals, and how to play Pole Position on Atari.

I agree with Wendy that this ‘game’ allowed us to appreciate our own lives more as “we imagined her awed appreciation for the safe, cluttered lives that we led”.

I recently read an article about how dystopian novels are the new historical fiction novels. Being a huge fan of historical fiction novels (John Jakes is my hero), I couldn’t imagine how this was true. But it is.

Part of the way readers relate to a historical character is to imagine what she doesn’t have (and you do) and what she doesn’t know (and you do). As the story progresses, you come to realize that this historical gal (who lacks an iPhone, deodorant and a peppermint mocha – how does she survive?!), actually has quite a bit that you don’t have: true self reliance, a green thumb and a greater appreciation for the little things. It’s through this connection that you can begin to place yourself in her button top shoes. (This is also exactly what Wendy McClure strives to do in this book. I found her section on shopping for a real butter churn on ebay of particular interest!)

It’s the same process to relate to a dystopian character, except for one thing. This dystopian gal knows what she’s missing. She’s either witnessed its disappearance, or been told about it by someone much older. She sees the evidence all around her ruined world of what you experienced and she didn’t.

I realize now that my obsession with apocalyptic/dystopian fiction stems from my original, childhood love of historical fiction, and that it all started with my faded yellow copies of the Little House books.

I’ve read all nine Little House books start to finish at least once a year since I first read them in elementary school. It’s amazing how the story stays the same, yet the angle of the sun shifts just a bit so that I get something different out of it each time I read it.

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