What Jenny's Reading

{September 7, 2014}   Review: Little House on the Prairie: The Wasted Year

Welcome to the second book in the Little House re-read review series!  As I mentioned in the first review, this book is a little less happiness and playing with bladder balloons, a little more almost dying many times.

Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, and Baby Carrie head out West, to “Indian Territory.” Out there, there are no trees, just super tall grass and flatland as far as the eye can see. Yep, that’s the life – no shade and tall scratchy grasses everywhere.

Remember how almost everything was happiness and light in the first book? Yeah, this one is not like that.

They leave their little house all alone and sad, never to be seen again. It’s because the Big Woods were getting too populated; why, sometimes Laura would hear people who weren’t Ma and Pa, working outside! This just won’t do. Pa shows us his first forays into fiscal irresponsibility by leaving their nice little house empty, rather than selling it or something. If there were so many people moving to the Big Woods, surely someone would’ve rather bought an already made house rather than having to build their own. But whatever. Pa’s got a wandering spirit – Pa cannot be held down, you know.

Okay, just kidding. He did sell the house. Well, eventually he’ll show his true colors. You’ll see.

So, to get West, they make up a real, live covered wagon. When I was in middle school, our school put on a musical play about American history. Yeah, we knew how to have just as good a time as the Ingalls family, you know. One of the songs started “Goin’ West…in a covered wagon…” That’s all I remember. I’m sure it was a super exciting musical, and also historically accurate.

These people are assholes. They have a dog, Jack. He’s a bulldog, so not a very large dog. Instead of making room in the wagon for him to ride comfortably, as befitting a beloved pet and guard dog, they make him walk. Dicks. And then! They go across a creek, and Laura wants Jack to ride in the wagon with them. She says this to her parents, and they’re all, “Well, he can swim.” The creek rises swiftly, and they all almost die. Pa claims he’s never seen a creek rise like that. You know, in the springtime. When water tends to rise quickly. Which is something that you would expect an outdoorsman to know. Then they realize that Jack probably drowned, and Laura cries for her pet. Stupid Pa and stupid Ma. WAS THERE REALLY NO ROOM IN THE WAGON FOR A LITTLE DOG?

Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on Pa’s relationship to foresight.  Clearly it is non-existent.  However, I do think he’s pretty well acquainted with foresight’s buddy foreshadowing.  You’ll see what I mean.

Laura needs some comfort, and begs her parents to know that Jack went to Heaven. Ma doesn’t answer, but Pa tells her of course he would’ve gone to Heaven. I bet Ma is one of those Christians who doesn’t believe animals have souls and therefore can’t go to Heaven. Well, even if she is, is it so horrible to offer comfort to your distressed child after a perfectly preventable accident?

Then Pa twists the knife later and is all, I have no idea what we’ll do without a guard dog now! It’s called foresight, Pa. Look into it.

Obviously this entire passage pissed me off a lot. I’m okay with that. Mostly because spoiler alert – he didn’t die. Personally I think he should’ve run as far in the other direction as his little legs could take him, but he does love Laura so he probably felt bad about abandoning her. As expected, everyone is happy to see him except Ma, who bitches about how they woke up Carrie with their joyful shouting.

As a kid, I never had a problem with Ma. I mean, she wasn’t as cool as Pa, obviously, but still, I thought she was okay. As an adult, I think she kind of sucks. I bet she’s unhappy about leaving left their nice safe house for the big stupid prairie. I guess I can’t really blame her for that. Also, she hates “Indians” and doesn’t have a really good reason. I can blame her for that one.

One day they randomly stop the wagon, and Pa declares this is where they’ll build their house. Okay. I’m going to guess he did something to claim this area, or bought it, or I have no idea (spoiler alert: nope). It’s near a town called Independence. Anyway, so they start building the house, and Ma almost dies by being crushed by a log. She sprains an ankle, and Pa blames himself for not using skids. I don’t know what skids are, but I assume it’s some kind of safety measure that they should’ve taken, but didn’t. Well, that’s Pa for you – no foresight.

They do get the house finished with the help of Mr. Edwards, a bachelor neighbor. They get ready to move into the little new house, and Pa claims he’d be happy to stay in that area for the rest of his life. Spoiler alert: LIAR!!!!

Pa goes out on his own and gets to socializing with some neighbors, and then finds a family suffering from something called “fever ’n ague” which sounds made up. I Googled it, though, and it appears to be malaria. Yikes! Anyway, he tries to help them and gets some other neighbors to help. Then it’s late when he starts home and he comes upon a wolf pack. He calls them “buffalo wolves” because they are so big. He’s wrong. These are clearly direwolves. Pa says he wasn’t worried that the wolves would get Ma and the girls, because Ma would be able to save the horses and keep the wolves out of the house. The house, mind you, that has a quilt hung over the empty doorframe in place of a door. Yep. Unless these wolves are dumber than a Stark, probably not. Later that night the wolves do come out and circle the house. Laura wakes up and sees them. Honestly, it sounds like it was a beautiful thing to see, but probably also very scary.

After that, Pa builds a door. I thought they were waiting because he didn’t have nails and you need nails to build a door. Apparently you don’t, you can use pegs made out of wood in place of nails. So…I don’t know why they didn’t have a door. I feel like a door should’ve been a necessity, like a roof. Isn’t that the point of a house? But perhaps that is my twenty-first century privilege talking.

At some point, the Native Americans leave the camp close by Laura’s house. Pa takes Laura and Mary there to see what it looks like. They find several beads in the dust and bring them home to show Ma. Mary, perfect little princess that she is, says her beads can go to Carrie. Laura doesn’t want to give hers away, but feels pressure and says Carrie can have hers too. And Ma’s all, “Yes, that’s good,” instead of saying that a freaking baby doesn’t need beads and probably would have no idea that she’d missed out on anything. The girls then string the beads to make a necklace for Carrie, and after Carrie wears it for like a minute, Ma puts it away “until she’s older.” Way to twist the knife, Ma.

I’m sorry, I think this book is boring, so that’s why this is “And then this happened, and then this happened.” I guess I don’t have much to say. But I can’t not review it if I’m going to review the rest of them. That is my rule, of course. There is no one standing behind me making me write these words. I just keep doing it!

They all come down with fever ’n ague next. I’d call it Ma’s karma, except the girls get it too. Also, they all think you get malaria from eating watermelon. I’d mock the idea that eating watermelon causes malaria, but how would these people really know what happened? Although I do think it’s kind of strange that they had a medicine to cure/treat malaria but didn’t know what caused it.

Oh, there is this: while they’re all in the throes of the sickness, Laura comes to consciousness briefly and Ma asks her to get them some water. Take note, friends. Ma, the adult, asks Laura, the child, to get them all water. She doesn’t get up and do it herself. I mean, I guess in theory Ma could’ve been sicker than Laura, I don’t really know. But geez, asking a sick seven-year-old to do something like that without even trying yourself first.

They do all get better. I mean, obviously Laura at least wasn’t going to die, otherwise this book wouldn’t exist.

Also, I had to laugh at Pa, when he brought them a watermelon and Ma was all upset, and Pa was like, “Hell no! Eating watermelon doesn’t cause fever ’n ague. That’s silly! CLEARLY the sickness is from breathing in the night air,” as though that’s a more logical explanation.

Then there’s a stupid part where Pa makes Ma a rocking chair, and she’s all happy, so comfortable for the first time in she can’t remember when. Yep, almost dying from malaria and then getting a new chair. Livin’ the dream, Ma is.

Actually, I can remember the last time Ma was that comfortable. It was when they were finishing the house, and made the beds up. She lay down and said the exact same thing.

A lot of these characters are awful, honestly. You have Mrs. Scott, one of their neighbors, who thinks “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” and also that she thought they (settlers) should have priority right over the land because “Indians” wouldn’t do anything with it anyway, they just wandered about. So Native Americans were hunter-gatherers, and settlers were farmers. Have you ever read “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” Mrs. Scott? I think not. I hope your descendants enjoy their heart disease!

Oh, and then there’s a great conversation between Pa and Laura, where Laura asks whether the Natives will be angry about all the settlers, and Pa’s like “Well, when the white people come the government makes the Native Americans move further West.” Laura, being pragmatic and intelligent, asks whether the Native Americans will be angry about being forced to move, and Pa won’t answer her. As a reminder: Laura is about seven or eight here. Note to the US government of the past: if an average seven-year-old can figure out your plan is dumb, perhaps it should be re-thought.

Sometimes nice things happen, though. Mr. Edwards, their bachelor neighbor, risks his life to bring Christmas presents to Mary and Laura. Mr. Edwards is awesome. I would make fun of the girls for being so excited over having candy and a cup and a penny, but honestly I’m just surprised Ma didn’t suggest they give all their gifts to Carrie. Or that Mary didn’t, considering that Mary is so boring that even boredom is like, “Bitch, please.”

Finally, Pa finds out that even after the Native Americans were forced West, the government wasn’t going to settle that area. So he moved his whole family to an area on a politician’s promise that it would be available for settlement. Okay. Remember what I said earlier, about lack of foresight and foreshadowing?  So instead of fighting for his land, or waiting for further word, he decides they’re all leaving. Right now!

I mean that in the literal sense. They leave the very next day for who knows where. Pa’s all cheerful, like “Well, we have all the time in the world!” when Ma points out that they wasted a whole year. Do you really, Pa? Are you immortal? No? Then you don’t.

I can at least appreciate the literary symmetry of leaving the little house on the prairie, just as they left the house in the big woods at the beginning of the book. That’s fun.

Clearly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the last one. This review probably wasn’t as much fun as the last one.  I tried, but it’s difficult to be creative when all you feel toward your subject matter is vague apathy, interspersed with hatred over the dog thing.  I remember not really caring for it as a kid, too. I think I need to point out that I’m not saying the book is poorly written, just that I didn’t like it as well as some of the others.  I do like the next Laura adventure a lot, though. It’s Nellie Oleson’s first appearance! Nellie Oleson was the original Mean Girl.


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