Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim

Like all little girls in the 1970s, I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder and I hated Nellie Oleson. Unlike a lot of little girls, I had read all the books and wasn't allowed to watch the TV show. Luckily, a neighbor didn't know I wasn't allowed to watch it and I watched in horror - and glee - as Laura pushed a fake-paralyzed Nellie's wheelchair down a very steep hill. It was awesome.

Nellie on the TV show wouldn't have been half as wonderfully awesome to hate if it hadn't been for Alison Arngrim who truly endowed her with a bitchy, spiteful, snottiness that isn't easily carried off. I wasn't sure if I'd like a book by her, but I'm ever so glad I picked it up!

Alison's home life wasn't great. While her parents were pretty cool - perhaps even too cool (her father was gay and it wasn't much a secret) - her older brother was molesting her. She decided at a very young age that she wanted to move out of the house to get away from him, and she knew that meant she needed money and the only thing she knew that a kid could do to make that kind of money was act. Her mother did the voice of Caspar the Friendly Ghost, her father managed Liberace, her brother starred a TV show, so it made sense. And while she didn't end up moving out of the house early, she did develop enough backbone through playing Nellie to finally tell her brother (successfully) to bug off.

This memoir was extremely well-written, smooth and peppy. Alison embraces Nellie's obnoxiousness and finds that at times, it even works to her advantage in the real world. The cast of the show were very much like a family to her, especially Melissa Gilbert who was a true friend, and the show continued to have an impact on her decades afterward. Instead of just being a blip in her life, it still influences her to this day. About to appear in an interview about her charity work, she finds out minutes beforehand that Michael Landon has died. And she uses her fame to push her pet projects, particularly in regards to molestation. She managed to book herself onto The Larry King Show for a full hour, to talk about state laws (particularly California's) which at the time exempted family members from being charged for molestation or rape!

I loved hearing how playing Nellie Oleson helped Ms. Arngrim learn to have gumption, stand up for herself, laugh at herself, and lay claim to her own quirky self in a way you rarely hear in a Hollywood bio. Anyone who was a fan of the TV show should definitely read this fast, fun, but not insubstantial memoir.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.