This pitch-perfect novel reimagines the life of Rose Wilder Lane, co-author of Little House on the Prairie.
Albert (Widow’s Tears, 2013, etc.) has discovered an endlessly fascinating protagonist. Lane, the libertarian and rumored lesbian, was an established, award-winning writer in her own right, but she may be best remembered today as the uncredited co-author of the Little House books written by her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Albert’s well-researched novel draws from the letters and journal entries of both women to offer a fictionalized account of the years spanning 1928-1939. The Great Depression threatens not only Rose’s livelihood as a writer, but also the free-wheeling, itinerant lifestyle she so values. When she and her companion, Helen Boylston, leave their home in Albania and return to the Wilder farmstead in Missouri, the move is meant to be temporary—Mansfield, Mo., has little to offer in the way of culture, after all, and Rose frequently clashes with her headstrong and old-fashioned mother. In the aftershock of the stock market crash, however, both women lose their savings, and Rose loses the financial stability she had enjoyed as a freelance writer before the crash. When a publisher shows interest in printing the stories of Laura’s difficult frontier childhood (but Laura’s untrained writing fails to impress), the mother and daughter enter into an unlikely, often contentious collaboration to produce the now-beloved Little House books. From this strange, very specific historical relationship, Albert has written a nuanced, moving and resonant novel about fraught mother-daughter relationships, family obligation, and the ways we both inherit and reject the values of our parents. The book also offers insightful, timely commentary on what it means to be a career writer.
With all of the charm of the Little House series—and the benefit of a sophisticated, adult worldview—Albert’s novel is an absolute pleasure.
The latest edition of the yearly anthology series offers a vivid cross section of contemporary gay life.
Though its title is something of a misnomer—The Best Gay Small Press Stories might be more fitting—this collection, edited by Berman, doesn’t suffer for its conspicuous absence of today’s most famous gay writers. Its 20 stories (most of them fiction, with a few autobiographical pieces included) examine multiple generations of gay experience. Ameen’s “Irrespective of the Storm,” for instance, chronicles his arrival in New York City in 1978, nodding to a subterranean sexual culture almost unrecognizable today, while several of the stories grapple with the meaning of commitment in the modern age of Internet sex. Though the complexity of desire might not be the most surprising thematic throughline for an anthology of gay writing, the collection succeeds precisely due to the fact that the stories are complicated, populated with believable, imperfect characters and plenty of ethical gray areas. If desire is one of the collection’s primary concerns, another dominating interest is capturing varied moments in gay men’s lives. Jones’ searing “Boy, A History” follows a character known only as Boy throughout his sexual awakening in a hostile environment. Other contributors tell stories of young love and long-term relationships turned tepid, middle-aged anxiety and elderly isolation. Though the book’s no less enjoyable for it, the anthology’s scope can feel narrow at times, with the majority of its stories taking place in familiar urban gay settings and most of its characters of an educated, well-cultured set. But the book does succeed in representing a wide range of voices—though there’s nothing approaching experimental here—and the result is a compellingly diverse reading experience: strong writing throughout, with each story distinct from the next. While this collection’s nuanced depictions of gay men today will surely attract gay readers, the quality of its stories transcends niche interest.
A fine showcase of emerging and small-press authors.
Judd (More Lasting Than Brass, 2004) offers a real-life epistolary tale of a bizarre literary love triangle.
In the 1930s, three well-educated women—English novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, English poet Valentine Ackland and American heiress-turned–activist/writer Elizabeth Wade White—became tangled up in one another’s lives. When White met Warner in New York City in 1929, White was 12 years Warner’s junior and struggling to free herself from the expectations of her wealthy conservative family. Warner fostered an intimate, impassioned and largely epistolary friendship with White; Warner’s lifelong lover, the boldly androgynous Ackland, corresponded with White as well. However, when the philandering Ackland took the inexperienced White as her lover, the three women found themselves caught in a web of conflicting desires. Until 1950, White would periodically return to England (leaving another companion behind) and take up with the two women—relegating Warner to the spare bedroom. Judd’s book is a straightforward biographical account set against the backdrop of mid-20th-century political unrest; all three women campaigned for the Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War. Much of the text consists of the women’s correspondence and, less frequently, their journals; these are true treasures, as Warner, Ackland and White were all superb writers. The book might have focused a bit more on their riveting interpersonal dramas, but Judd commits to telling their full stories faithfully, even to the most quotidian detail. Their missives about politics, their literary and artistic friends, and even the behaviors of their beloved pet cats are as finely wrought as their heartfelt notes on their romantic complications.
A detailed biography that offers valuable insight into the lives of three accomplished women.
Gay Mormons struggle to reconcile their hearts with their faith in these slyly revealing stories.
Townsend’s characters wrestle with the normal neuroses of modern life as distinctively shaped by the Church of Latter-day Saints. In the title story, two young men find that their nostalgia for Victorian culture—sadomasochistic fetishes and a cult of virginity—resonates with their Mormonism. In “Latter-Day Sinners,” a New Orleans man caught in Hurricane Katrina wonders if God’s wrath has been provoked by his homosexual inclinations. The proper Mormon husband of “The Third Part of the Trees” finds his patriarchal authority challenged when his anxiety over global warming prompts him to uproot his family. Elsewhere, the dutiful Mormon angel in “Kolob Abbey” discovers that repressed homosexuality haunts even the most exalted realms of the celestial afterlife. “Julie and Cowboy” follows a closeted student determined to suppress his urges—until his obligatory Mormon fellowship service leads him into temptation in the form of a seductive wastrel. Several stories explore the conflicted impulses of gay Mormons who’ve left the church but find that, after escaping its stifling constraints, they miss the close-knit community it nurtured. Whereas Townsend’s previous story collections charted the darker margins of mainstream Mormon life, in his latest, the tone is more muted, the sexual transgressions less lurid, his characters’ discontent quieter and more reflective, yet it’s no less absorbing. Suffused with talk of politics, these stories register the new openness and confidence of gay life in the age of same-sex marriage; many are set in the tolerant milieu of Seattle, where middle-aged characters lead comfortable, dull lives, their ostracism from the church just another muffled ache amid ordinary estrangements and deflations. What hasn’t changed is Townsend’s wry, conversational prose, his subtle evocations of character and social dynamics, and his deadpan humor. His warm empathy still glows in this intimate yet cleareyed engagement with Mormon theology and folkways.
Funny, shrewd and finely wrought dissections of the awkward contradictions—and surprising harmonies—between conscience and desire.