What Jenny's Reading

{April 9, 2016}   Review: The First Four Years, Part 3

So…yeah.  What can I say?  Depression is a bitch.  Anxiety is a bitch.  Put them together and you get…well, something more clever than “two bitches.”  It’s been a rough few months.

But I do have the last part of my review of The First Four Years!  I think that nearly wraps up the older stuff I was doing.  Now I just need to finish The Maze Runner, right?  Nope, haven’t done that yet.  It’s more fun to review things I like that are a bit ridiculous, as opposed to things I don’t have a lot of patience for because they are predicable and have irritating main characters.

But anyway.  On to the recap/review!

Winter passes after an April blizzard because OF FUCKING COURSE.  Then it’s springtime and everyone sort of settles into the new routine.  Laura takes Rose to see her parents and sisters a lot, and tells us that Almanzo was okay with it as long as she was home in time to make dinner.  I’m torn between snarking that really buddy, you can’t feed yourself even one day, and remembering that his job was the farm and hers was the house.  And if he worked hard all day out on the farm, he would probably be too tired to make his own dinner.

But seriously, buddy, you couldn’t just feed yourself some cold salt pork ONE TIME?

The harvest was small (obviously), but they did make enough money to pay their bills and buy some groceries, so that’s good.  And that’s the end of their second year, which at least wasn’t totally devastating.  So, there’s that.

At the beginning of the third year, Almanzo buys a new, more expensive stove, and says that it’ll be cheaper in the end because while the stove was expensive and the coal to heat it was more expensive, the coal burns a lot longer and everything will last longer.  I guess so.  But that might’ve just been talk, because Laura says they really couldn’t afford it but she doesn’t mention it to him, since he seems to have a hard time with the cold and all.  She makes him some kind of special shirt, or long underwear, for Christmas.

It’s good she did that, because on their way back from her parents’ on Christmas, he had to get out of the sleigh and walk the horses the whole way home, since they didn’t want to be facing the wind and kept going off the trail.  All right, I guess he deserves a nice warm stove.

Laura makes a special dinner for his birthday, and they have guests over and it’s all wonderful except she has a fever and can’t join the celebrations.  She gets worse and worse, and it turns out she has diphtheria.  Oh, and then Almanzo gets it too.

CHRIST ON A CRACKER.  Okay, so if you don’t know (and I had to look it up, honestly), it’s a serious bacterial infection that can lead to heart problems and paralysis.  It’s preventable via vaccine, and it looks like it’s almost eradicated at this point (do you hear me, anti-vaxxers?).  So GUESS WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENS.

Go on, guess.  I’ll wait.  Shouldn’t take long, I imagine.

Yep.  Almanzo ends up with mild paralysis which does eventually fade, but not completely.  I’m fairly certain I read somewhere else that it troubled him in one form or another for the remainder of his life.  But at this point I think the more surprising thing is that the paralysis wasn’t permanent, right?

The good news from all of this is that they end up selling the proved-up homestead to pay some bills, and move back to their original house on the unproven tree claim.  Well, that was probably not good news for Almanzo, but I think it’s fucking spectacular.  Who needs that much fucking land, I mean really let’s be realistic here.  Almanzo has already proven he’s sort of inept as a farmer, but maybe he can be a good forest ranger or lumberjack.

They manage to grow a new wheat and oat crop, and Almanzo says they should be okay once it’s mature.  Okay then.  We’ll see.  They also start taking their horses out on runs after Rose goes to bed, like I guess CPS didn’t exist back in frontierland because they leave Rose all by herself in the house.  I mean, probably she’d stay sleeping and that’s fine, but they go as far as a half mile from the house, Laura tells us.  That’s plenty of time for some opportunist claim jumper or murderer to break into the house and make off with a baby.  Clearly that doesn’t happen, which I guess surprises me since everything horrible that could ever happen to these people seems to happen.  Anyway, they race their horses and have a grand old time.

They end up buying a bunch of sheep from a nervous Republican who thinks the next president will be a Democrat and ruin the whole nation.  Nice to know people were just as crazy about politics then as they are now!  The actual funny part about this deal is that the reason the guy was selling the sheep is that he was concerned a “tariff” was going to be taken off sheep, and I guess that would make them relatively worthless as far as selling wool is concerned.  And then Almanzo and his friend are all, ooh, lookie!  A bargain!  Like seriously guys, maybe think about this for more than five seconds before you jump in with both feet.

They don’t listen to me, because they are in the past and long dead.  They sell one of their horses to pay for these sheep.  I hope it ends up being worth it.

Remember how smart Almanzo’s father was?  How he was a really good businessman?  Yeah, I just don’t know what happened there.

Poor Laura spends her entire summer anxious about the oats and wheat, hoping it wouldn’t hail so they’d actually be able to harvest something for once and make a little money, pay off their debts.  And it doesn’t hail, yay!

It’s a fucking windstorm this time.

Everything is ruined, but Almanzo cuts it anyway, to feed to their stock as a substitute.  So at least the animals can eat, but not the humans.  Luckily, they can harvest a bunch of hay to sell which I guess tides them over for a time.

And that’s the end of the third year.  These people just keep backtracking, don’t they?

One night while Laura is helping Almanzo unhitch the team (he still can’t do it himself from the stroke), he discusses selling the horses and buying something sturdier to plow.  Laura’s all, wait a second, mister, remember how we agreed to three years and now it’s been three years?  Do you really think this experiment has been a success?  Almanzo hilariously thinks it’s been not so bad, even though all their crops have been giant failures.  Yeah, he actually says that, that’s not my embellishment.

He asks her for another year, since they just need one good crop, and also they have no money to do anything else besides farming.  Well, not really.  I mean, they have cattle and machines and so forth.  I bet they could sell all that stuff and get a store in town or something.  Isn’t his brother a shopkeeper?  They could go and work with him.  But Laura agrees, I guess because all her time out on the prairie has made her a fucking sadist, and they start their “year of grace.”

The first thing that happens is a pack of wolves almost goes after their sheep.  Laura, badass that she is, goes out to fend them off with just a pitchfork.  Luckily for them (I KNOW MAYBE THIS REALLY IS A “YEAR OF GRACE”), the wolves don’t come.  Oh, and then she gets pregnant again.  Some neighbor of theirs takes pity on her and gives her a bunch of Sir Walter Scott novels to read, and Laura tells us that they were actually very distracting from her morning sickness.  That was nice.

Another giant windstorm comes next, nearly killing their sheep because they haven’t been sheered yet, and I guess it manages to tip over their giant wagon full of hay.  Oh, and a fire burns part of their property, of course the part with crops planted.  We’re off to a great start!

Amazingly, the sheep don’t die, or run away, or magically lose all their wool before the guys can sheer them, and they actually make money off the wool!  I mean, not a lot.  Don’t get crazy or anything over here, we’re still in Hell’s Outskirts of the Prairie.

Laura manages to be just as observational a parent as Ma, as she loses Rose constantly on the prairie.  Luckily nothing bad happens, except of course her almost drowning in a bucket and also kicking a horse’s stomach for funsies.  Oh, and that other horse just jumping right over her like it ain’t no thang.  At this point Laura’s just about HAD IT with fucking farming, and you think she’s about to smack Almanzo down with some righteous fury over how stupid his plan is.  Except she doesn’t.  I have no idea why.

They need it to rain for the crops, and it doesn’t, and now they have to prove up the claim and I guess they can’t because of the bad crops and lack of money or maybe Almanzo like tripped on his way to the claim office and all their money blew away.  Or something.

No, that didn’t actually happen.  But I bet you thought maybe it did.

Almanzo can file a “pre-emption” which essentially gives them another six months, and of course costs more money.  I guess they do this because Laura’s just not going to tell Almanzo how much he sucks at farming.  I mean, there’s supportive, and then there’s Laura Ingalls Wilder.  At this point she’s just enabling him, and that’s really not healthy.

And now, a tornado!  Somehow it manages to not destroy their entire farm.

Laura has her baby, a little boy, who dies at about three weeks, and at this point I don’t understand why she doesn’t just go back East or to the Moon or something because FUCK THIS SHIT.  But Laura is strong!  She perseveres!  She fucking SETS FIRE TO ALMANZO’S STUPID HOUSE!

Oh.  My.  GOD.  You guys.  This is BEAUTIFUL.  The house BURNS TO THE FUCKING GROUND!

Okay, fine.  She doesn’t do it on purpose, or at least the text says it was an accident.  I’m choosing to believe that, at least unconsciously, she wanted to just light that fucker up and watch the world burn.  Oh, you want to live on a claim and play at farming and dig a giant hole of debt, Almanzo?  Too fucking bad!  I’m going to burn your stupid house down!  WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW, ALMANZO?  HAHAHAHAHAHA!

And if that’s true?  Laura Ingalls Wilder is my freaking HERO.

Sadly, Laura does not escape at this most perfect of opportunities.  She ends up back at her parents’ for a few days, recovering from blisters and smoke inhalation.  Almanzo does come back and get her, and they end up moving in with another family and Laura does housekeeping and so forth in exchange for room and board.

And that’s the end of the fourth year.  What a fucking fabulous finish.

All right.  That wasn’t the end of the book.  They discuss whether farming was a success, and Almanzo’s like, but maybe!  Next year will have to be good after all these bad years!  We have stock!  And we saved money by building a less grand house than before!

Yes, you read that right.  Almanzo is actually arguing that they SAVED money by building a whole new house after the other one burned down.  I mean, I know they had to since there was nowhere else to live.  But don’t play games and lie to yourself about how it’s such a freaking bargain, you know?

And Laura.  Fucking.  Agrees.  Alrighty, honey!  Let’s just keep pounding away and being optimistic and eventually things will turn around!  Me, I’d assume this was the universe’s way of saying get the fuck out.  But whatever!  That’s fine.  Eventually they’re going to move to freaking Missouri and live on a rock crop formation or whatever, so maybe staying in hell’s outskirts is better than actually living in hell itself.

That’s the actual end of the book.  I’m trying to decide if I want to review On the Way Home, which is less a book and more a collection of letters and essays.  It’s a description of their trip out to Missouri when Rose is a little girl.  As I consider Missouri to essentially be hell on Earth, I’m not sure yet.  But knowing me, I’ll probably do it.


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