Simple Gifts – “The Wilder Life” by Wendy McClure
A few years ago I stumbled onto a hilarious memoir written by Wendy McClure. The book was called “I’m not the new me,” and it was McClure’s story of a life spent obsessing about weight. I’ve never forgotten the book, and still have it hanging around.
McClure has a fresh, fun view of the world, and I eagerly awaited new work from her.
New work arrived recently in her book, “The Wilder Life.” Turns out, McClure grew up obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House on the Prairie,” books and particularly with Laura, the central character of the series. In this new book, Chicago resident McClure embarks on a quest to see the landmarks that played roles in the book, as well as to experience as many of the things/activities mentioned in the book as possible. Since she grew up considering Laura a “friend,” her connection to these books is deeply personal, and she devotes herself entirely to her obsession.
So, the city girl buys herself a butter churn. Or, you know, two.
“The Wilder Life” brings to mind Sarah Vowell’s works. Ms. Vowell is frequently indulging her obsession with periods of history and weaving them into super-smart nerdy travelogue/memoirs, and that’s exactly what McClure has done here. While you’re learning about these beloved landmarks and the people who take pilgrimages to them, you’re also learning a lot about the author who’s eyes you’re seeing them through. As McClure (joined by her faithful and affable boyfriend, Chris, who actually reads the entire series as the book progresses) journeys from Chicago to Iowa to Minnesota to Kansas and a few other locations, the mission becomes about something more than just catching up with a literary figure or fictional friend.
It’s an incredibly touching book, while also remaining entertaining every step of the way. From the moment where Wendy and Chris wind up spending a weekend learning homesteading techniques alongside a group of people who are there to prepare for the “end of days,” to attending a performance of the touring musical version of the books, McClure’s wit never ceases.
“The Wilder Life” is a great read.
I had the sheer delight of catching Ms. McClure talking about the book at the 2011 Printer’s Row Lit Fest this past weekend, and she was a joy. I also managed to capture the below video of her reading the opening pages of the book.