Found after Wilder’s death, the final book in the Little House series covers the first four years of Laura’s marriage to Almanzo. Although the Wilders welcome their daughter, Rose, the first four years of their marriage are marked largely by death – the destruction of their farm, the struggle to make it as farmers, and the unexpected and unexplained death of their unnamed infant son. Almanzo promised Laura at the beginning of their marriage that he would leave farming if they were unsuccessful and Laura was unhappy and, by the book’s conclusion, Laura must decide if that is still the case.
Unlike the happy and golden (to borrow Wilder’s words) hue of the previous book, this book is much starker and matter of fact in its presentation of Almanzo and Laura’s life together. They had a baby. They lost their farm. They lost their second baby. The only time real emotion seeps onto the pages is when an older, childless couple offers to trade their best horse for the Wilders’ daughter, Rose, and the description of Laura giving birth is so convoluted that I can remember thinking she had a stomachache or appendicitis the first time I read the book as a child. The whole novel lacks the descriptive warmth of her previous novels and leaves the series with an unpolished, stark end.
Now that I’m older, however, I can understand why Wilder would have left this manuscript incomplete. I’m sure it was quite difficult to fictionalize the tragedies in her life, to reimagine them over and over again into words, especially when one particular tragedy in her life occurred with no explanation. The afterward also states that Wilder stopped writing after the death of her husband so she likely no longer wanted to continue to dwell on the sadder aspects of her life. I do wish the book had been more polished and longer (four years in 135 pages is so quick!), but I also appreciate that the readers at least know what happened between Laura and Almanzo after their marriage. I would have been left wondering otherwise.
- Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The First Four Years. New York: Scholastic, 1971. 135 pgs. ISBN: 9780590488136. Source: Purchased.