My Life as Laura by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson grew up in the belief that she was Laura Ingalls’s long-lost twin, or perhaps her reincarnation; she was bored and frustrated by her suburban upbringing and longed for the simplicity, beauty, and utility of the world of the Little House books. After earning an English degree and attempting to be a rock-n-roll star, she ended up waiting tables… for decades. At thirty-eight, unhappy with work and her love life and feeling like a failure, she sets out to follow in her hero’s wagon tracks across the United States, visiting the sites of the various Ingalls homes as represented in the books. My Life as Laura is the story of Ferguson’s travels, and her reflections on her own life and what lessons she can learn from Laura.

She dons a “prairie dress” (which mostly makes her miserable, but occasionally helps her get into the spirit of things) and drives her Camry west. Laura’s home sites sometimes feature the preserved original structure, sometimes a replica or a monument to the location; sometimes tours are available; but they seem to always feature a gift shop. Ferguson’s most adventurous moments involve interacting with hotel and gift shop staff while wearing her period costume; but these conversations are generally perfunctory. She spaces out during tours, but reads a few books purchased in the gift shops and learns more about the object of her admiration – like the disturbing news that there is some question as to Laura’s authorship of the books, and the level of her daughter Rose’s involvement. Ferguson discovers that, while she’s a first-class expert on Laura the character of the books, she really didn’t know Laura the (arguable) author of the books very well.

Nothing much happens in this book. If you’re looking for adventure, experience, the trying of new things (or any attempt to live the Ingalls’ nineteenth century lifestyle), look elsewhere. Rather, what action there is is inward-looking, as Ferguson contemplates and picks apart her own past through the lens of Laura’s experiences. At the end she has made some personal growth and undertaken to write a book (ta-da!). The changes she makes to her life are modest, but she’s honest about what she’s able to take on.

This book has its strengths, humility and honesty being chief among them. But I was disappointed with the action component, and had expected more brave and outgoing feats than registering for a hotel room in an odd dress and subsisting on junk food. It didn’t feel like Ferguson’s boundaries were expanded much, even in a cross-country solo road trip. Perhaps the greatest downfall of the book was Ferguson’s success in convincing me of her own weakness and tendency towards failure. I feel badly writing that, but it was my reaction; I don’t mean to be unkind, but she had me talked into the thesis of her underachievement. Also, I have to note her repeated reference to the Amish driving around in their minivans. In nonfiction especially, that kind of sloppy error really stands out to me. [The Amish don’t drive cars.]

In conclusion, this book has a mild feel-good effect, and there are certainly some positive reviews out there. Ferguson is always brutally honest about her own weaknesses, and I respect her for it. But its lack of action and growth, and a few sloppy details, left me decidedly lukewarm.

I received a copy of this book from the author and I’m only sorry I didn’t have a more positive reaction to it.

2 Responses

  1. This one sounds pretty interesting nonetheless. Another Wilder Life-esque book? I wonder which came first.

    Thanks for the frank review. 🙂

    • There is reference late in the book to another author proposing a very similar book, which threw off the publisher’s interest in hers for a bit. It’s not named, but I immediately thought of The Wilder Life. If you find a copy, let me know what you think – I’d offer you mine but it already went into my library’s circulation.

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