Speaking from Boston, juror Caroline Elkins said: “Caroline Fraser blends a fascinating social history of the US with histories of the environment and the family. She has gathered a vast amount of material, with a forensic eye for detail, and she has pulled it all together brilliantly. Setting the mythology of The Little House on the Prairie against the reality of life on the prairies makes for a fascinating history.”
In Prairie Fires, Fraser places Laura’s choices as a writer within the larger context of Americans’ self-deception when it comes to the pioneer life and its legacy. This she manages to do without diminishing Laura herself, a woman Fraser clearly admires. It needs to be done all the same, because the books’ legacy has been muddied by Rose Wilder Lane and her acolytes, who have enlisted them as propaganda.
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.
This new biography of Wilder by Caroline Fraser, the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books, is just as gripping as the original novels. Particularly fascinating for Wilder aficionados is the revelation that Laura didn’t start writing her books until she was nearly 60 and that, as Fraser writes, the novels were “not only fictionalised” but “edited in a profound act of American myth-making and self-transformation”...As pacy and vivid as one of Wilder’s own narratives, this surprising biography is immensely revealing both about Wilder and about America’s founding myths.