I have been slowly and steadily working on a project that involves an old topic of interest: the dynamic changes in society, economy, and settlement pattern as Euro-Americans ensnared the middle and western parts of the continent in their material and political net of civilization, sometimes known as the Westward Expansion. And for this reason, I came across a book, a NYT Book Review “Best Ten” for 2017, of interest, that happens also to be on sale cheap in Kindle format.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.
As pointed out in a review by Patricia Nelson Limerick, the exploitation and eastward shipping, for profit, of bison hides and precious metals (and everything in between) was not the only gig in the west. The story itself, the stories of pioneering, gun fighting, Indian, er, relations, and everything else, collected in situ and refined through the myth-mills of the publishing industry, amounted to a significant and valuable commodity. One of the most productive ore lodes of daring narrative in the plains and midwest was the one tapped by Laura Ingalls Wilder via the Little House series, and other tales. Also, her daughter was in on it.
Prairie Fires pulls back the switch-grass curtain. To quote from PNL’s review:
Rendering this biography as effective at racking nerves as it is at provoking thought, the story of Wilder’s emergence as a major sculptor of American identity pushes far past the usual boundaries of probability and plausibility. For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder’s “Little House” books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading “Prairie Fires” will provide a lasting cure. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling. Meanwhile, “Little House” devotees will appreciate the extraordinary care and energy Fraser brings to uncovering the details of a life that has been expertly veiled by myth. Perhaps most valuable, “Prairie Fires” demonstrates a style of exploration and deliberation that offers a welcome point of orientation for all Americans dismayed by the embattled state of truth in these days of polarization.
-Patricia Nelson Limerick, review, The New York Times