(Review) Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

prairie fires

Publisher and Publication Date: Metropolitan Books. November 21, 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Frontier and pioneer life.
Pages: 640.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: Excellent.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the beloved children’s books: the Little House series. The following link is provided by Goodreads: the Little House Series list of 11 books.
The Little House series is some of the first chapter books I read. I devoured these books. I read each of them several times over the years, both as a child and an adult. When I was a young girl, Laura was an endearing book friend. I was happy to both read the books and watch the television show adaption.
As an adult, I knew Laura’s life held memories she had not told. I believe this is true of people. We share what we want people to know. The closer we are to someone, the more apt we are of expressing those memories that are painful. The younger generation of people are “out there” with sharing. Sharing via Facebook or Twitter private information. People of my parents generation and prior generations would be horrified at sharing personal stuff.
What captured my interest in reading this book is it’s promoted as a “comprehensive historical biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Another reason for reading this book is I wanted to know about the relationship between Laura and her only child, Rose Wilder Lane.
While reading Prairie Fires, I was cautious of a biography that sensationalized the problems in Laura and Rose’s lives. I was not interested in reading a tabloid like expose. I’m pleased to state, Prairie Fires, is a solid history piece. Additional features of this book gave it even more credit. For example: the Indian Wars, agriculture in the Plains, western migration, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and presidential elections. Just as Laura gave a look at a child’s life in pioneer America. Pioneer Fires gives a mature historical account of Laura and Rose living in America in the late nineteenth and early part of twentieth centuries. Laura and Rose are the key people, but the nation of America is a strong feature.
Prairie Fires is narrative nonfiction. Narrative nonfiction is a genre using a literary style. It is the opposite of an academic nonfiction genre.
Caroline Fraser used letters, diaries, manuscripts, newspaper articles, census deeds, loan papers, and handwritten drafts as research for Prairie Fires. The “Notes to Pages” section is 85 pages. The “Acknowledgement” section holds further research on writing the “chronology of Wilder’s life.”
Twenty-four black and white illustrations of Laura, Almanzo, Rose; and Laura’s parents and siblings are included.
A map of the Midwestern states show where Laura and her family lived.
The first paragraph in the “Introduction” pulled me in. Laura had gotten, “a telegram from South Dakota. Her mother, Caroline Ingalls, had just died. Wilder hadn’t seen her for more than twenty years.” I was shocked. I cannot imagine not having seen my mother for twenty years, and then finding out she’d died. I was perplexed. Why had they not seen each other in twenty years? Had something happened in their relationship? Was this common in families during this era, to rarely see family? Caroline Fraser answered my questions.
Through Prairie Fires I learned about the relationship between Laura and Almanzo. They were a true partnership.
I’d mentioned earlier in this review about the relationship between Laura and Rose. They had a complex and complicated mother and daughter relationship. It was just messy. At times, their relationship was volatile. Even though Fraser explains from various directions the messiness. To be frank, isn’t this often typical in families? Families are imperfect because people are imperfect. If you add other complexities like mental health issues, the relationships become more tangled. I feel Fraser handled this aspect of the book with truth and grace.
I applaud Caroline Fraser for writing this book. Bravo!

A review by Amy Brady, senior editor at Chicago Review of Books. This review appeared in the Dallas Morning News.
A Sympathetic Portrait of a Complicated Life

Further links of interest:
Little House on the Prairie-a documentary.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum


Almanzo and Laura Wilder, 1885.


Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

Links of interest:
Rose Wilder Lane
Herbert Hoover Library (site) for Rose Wilder Lane and Laura Ingalls Wilder. 
Photograph images from the Herbert Hoover Library. 
The State Historical Society of Iowa, info on the Rose Wilder Lane Papers. 


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