Like many people, I loved the Little House series growing up, and read the books many times. I even read a number of the ephemeral books, like The Little House Cookbook, A Little House Sampler, and On the Way Home. Thus, I expected to enjoy this book too.
Was I wrong.
What didn’t I like about this book? Let me count the ways.
1. It moved SO slowly! This is one of those books where 200 pages feel more like 800. This wasn’t an engaging, gripping page-turner.
2. Ms. Miller needs a lot more practice writing third-person. Her previous novels were first-person present tense, so the classic third-person past tense is quite a departure for her. I never felt fully in Caroline’s head, because the prose was so emotionally detached and distant.
3. Overdescribing the dullest things, with the same detached prose. How does it either move the story or character development along to know every little detail about rope burn, fording rivers, drying the wagon canvas after a storm?
4. Over half the book depicts the journey from Wisconsin to Indian Territory. Apart from a few people the Ingallses encounter along the way, the only four characters are Ma, Pa, Mary, and Laura. Books about, e.g., the Oregon Trail work best when there are many other people besides the main family.
Those books also feature gripping emotional, dramatic events, like disease, drought, exhaustion, childbirth, quarrels with other pioneers. This is just a boring, long-drawn-out travelogue.
5. I REALLY did not need to read sex scenes with Ma and Pa! I feel so uncomfortable reading sex scenes with real-life people. Unless we’re talking about someone like Casanova, how do you think they’d feel knowing a total stranger, 100+ years later, would depict the imagined details of their most private, intimate moments for the entire world to read?
6. Ditto reading about Pa tasting Ma’s breastmilk!
7. I’m not sure what the point of this retelling was. This is little more than a direct retelling of Little House on the Prairie from Ma’s POV.
8. Enough already with the excretory scenes! Reading about real-life people relieving themselves squicks me out even more than reading about them having sex! I did not need to read so many scenes of Ma and the girls using the necessary, digging holes and squatting over them, and emptying chamber pots!
9. Lots of purple prose and weird metaphors. Enough said.
10. Was the real Caroline really that dour, serious, depressing, and joyless? I get that Laura wrote the books from her POV, and didn’t have personal insight into her mother’s feelings, but Ms. Miller’s Caroline seems really off the mark. Pioneer women had difficult lives, and were the product of a much different society and culture, but there were still moments of joy!
It also feels like stereotyping of Victorian women in general, who were anything but prudish and repressed.
11. Spending way too much time describing things that don’t move the story along. Not every single day, week, month of a story needs detailed!
12. Ms. Miller doesn’t use enough commas. Where was her editor?
Overall, I’m tired of the trend of hist-fic about real-life people. So many of these books would work so much better were they about fictional people with similar circumstances. Then there’d be more leeway to stray from established history and personalities. At least in alternative history, there’s a reason for characters to do things they never did in real life!
At least Ms. Miller accurately depicts the Ingallses as voluntarily returning to Wisconsin because the man who bought their cabin reneged on his payments, instead of, as Laura depicts, being forced out by the government.