Books based on other books (aka. parallel novels) often use the original story as inspiration, but then create something entirely different. Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea is a good example: based on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, it provides a back story for Mr. Rochester’s vilified first wife. Comparatively, McCartney’s poems are a safe interpretation of The Little House Books, one that might only please a nostalgic fan like myself.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder series focuses on a growing girl with a fiery temper and sensitive disposition, a story, which probably consoled many bookish, eight-year-old girls after doing something naughty. But Laura was an unusual girl for her time: headstrong, sharp, active and imaginative. Her most interesting characteristic was her constant guilt over her temper; she was convinced that her family lived a charmed life in comparison to her turbulent one. The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder opens up this one-sided perspective, giving voice to the huge cast of characters who pop up throughout the nine books narrated exclusively by Laura. Mary, Laura’s blind, goodly sister, curses her family’s health and awkward treatment of her disability. Ma, a sophisticated, hard-working woman on the outside, is actually disgusted with her dirty pioneer life. McCartney’s poems convince that The Little House Books were not just fanciful tales for girls, but coursed with a sharp current of sacrifice and discontent. Where the poems falter is McCartney’s extension of this first-person perspective to the Ingalls’ possessions. We hear from Pa’s axe, the covered wagon, the whatnot (a fancy corner shelf) and Laura’s sewing needle. For some reason all these objects are yearning for attention, but unfortunately my empathy stops at listening to a needle’s insecurities. (Laura Trethewey)
by Sharon McCartney, $16.95, 104 pgs, Nightwood Editions, 773 Cascade Crescent, Gibsons, BC, V0N 1V9