oddmonster (oddmonster) wrote in bookish,

Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, by Alison Arngrim

#89: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim:
In August and September one hundred-plus degrees was a normal daytime temperature for Simi Valley. And I was wearing a wig...and a full-length dress with a five-layer petticoat...and tights and boots. I discovered that sometimes, just as you can be in so much pain that eventually you just become numb, and the pain no longer bothers you, you can actually be so hot that everything stops, and you just feel this weird, neutral sense of having no temperature at all. It doesn't really feel good, but at least you don't feel hot anymore. Of course, a few minutes after that happens, you usually pass out.
Synopsis: Former child star spills the beans on her show, her show business family and the secret to getting ahead in life.

When you compare just the front cover of Arngrim's autobiography with those of Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson, you get the feeling that one of these women is not like the others. One of these women is having much more fun.

Arngrim spent a large part of her childhood playing the villain on "Little House on the Prairie", which was apparently a monster hit of a tv show. I say apparently only because I've never seen it; I do know that a few people on my f-list hold an almost mystical regard for it, and two of them recommended this book, even though I am Prairie-naive.

It's an awesome read.

First of all, Arngrim is wickedly funny, with a dry, sarcastic writing style that's a little self-deprecating; the perfect style for writing memoirs, otherwise there's always the risk of coming off like your own Mary Sue. Autobiographies are hard, y'all. I think it's hard to tell your own story without coming off as pompous or mean, or not really realizing where the interesting bits are.

Arngrim does none of these things. She's had a hell of an interesting life and gets a lot of how weird it is, really, to have spent her childhood running round a fake Simi Valley ranch in 19th century period dress with Michael Landon. She talks about being a skinny, shy kid who didn't realize how much the Little House viewing audience hated Nellie until she's beat up during a promotional appearance gone horribly wrong.

She also writes very effectively about how she learned to use her tv fame as an activist working against child abuse and for AIDS prevention. Her example of having to go on Larry King and work her Nellie connection to get incest laws changed in California was brilliant, and possibly my favorite part of the book. But I love a good Citizen 1, Government 0 story, so I may be biased there.

Highly recommended book.

I just have one last question: was Little House really the big ole straight-up soap opera it looks like just from Arngrim's character sketches alone? I mean, take this for example:
Mary Ingalls Kendall (Melissa Sue Anderson): The beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed and later blind as a bat older sister of Laura ... Eventually, she manages to bag the most ridiculously hot blind guy ever born, Adam Kendall. They start their own school for the blind, which later burns to the ground, killing their baby. Mary temporarily loses her marbles, then regains her sanity, only to have her husband miraculously get his sight back, threatening their marriage.

Okay so...really? I was under the impression the show was all about butter-churning and running through knee-high grass in knee-high boots. I had no idea that it carried everyone to adulthood and just basically laid on Mr. Drama with a trowel. Wow. It doesn't sound like there was much time for churning butter after all.

I'm now eager to read both Gilbert's and Anderson's accounts of the same time period, if only because the trio offer the kind of historical retelling I loved so much in Lexicon Devil; that you get a chance to see one period of history through multiple sets of eyes. But the two Melissas here really have a tough act to follow.

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