Prairie Tales by Melissa Gilbert

To fans of the Little House on the Prairie television series, Melissa Gilbert grew up in a fantasy world with a larger-than-life father, friends and family she could count on, and plenty of animals to play with. Children across the country dreamed of the Ingalls’ idyllic life — and so did Melissa. Gilbert traces her complicated journey from buck-toothed Laura “Half-Pint” Ingalls to Hollywood starlet, wife, and mother. She partied with the Brat Pack, dated men like Rob Lowe, and began a self-destructive pattern of addiction and co-dependence before eventually realizing her career on television had earned her popularity, admiration, and love from everyone but herself.

After finishing Alison Arngrim’s memoir, I immediately picked up this memoir excited to learn more about the behind-the-scenes of one of my favorite television series from its star. Given my high expectations (thanks in large part to Arngrim), I ended up being bitterly disappointed with this memoir and only finished it in order to find out what eventually became of “Half-Pint”. Arngrim presents the picture of a close knit cast, particularly between Gilbert and Michael Landon, but Gilbert has this distance towards her memoirs and her time on the show making it feel like she’s not quite ready to address those memories. Like she wants to keep the image of that idyllic time rather than address the shortcomings of both her own life and her co-stars.

Many of the critical reviews I have seen for the novel have criticized Gilbert’s foul language and her deviant behavior in the form of drugs, alcohol, and sex. The former is understandable to a point, but I won’t pass judgement upon the later other than saying that I’m glad she at least I address the hypocrisy of her rampant drug use and drinking while simultaneously serving as the spokesperson for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.

The constant name dropping and references to films, televisions shows, and Hollywood executives I have never heard of (somewhat expected given that I was born nearly thirty years after Gilbert) grew tiresome very quickly and never advanced the narrative or gave insight into who Gilbert is today. In fact, it gives the appearance that Gilbert is still clinging to the stardom she experienced as a child with most of the references waning as her life progresses. The chatty nature of the narrative, though, makes it easy to breeze through the book but it still felt as though we were having a conversation between therapist and patient rather than between friends.

Books Mentioned:

  • Arngrim, Alison. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. eBook. 251 pgs.  ISBN: 9780062000101. Source: Purchase.
  • Gilbert, Melissa. Prairie Tales. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009. Print. 367 pgs. ISBN: 9781416599142. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Simon Spotlight Entertainment. Retrieved: September 22, 2014.

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