Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2010

It's about: Alison Arngrim played Nellie Oleson on the Little House on the Prairie television series. This memoir is mostly about her time spent on Little House, but she also writes about being sexually abused as a child and how that affected her personal life and career. Alison became great friends with Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, and Steve Tracy, who played Nellie's eventual husband Percival. She has all kind of fun anecdotes about what went on behind the scenes of the show. In one chapter, she talks about the "Bunny" episode of Little House where Nellie pretends to be crippled, which happens to be almost everyone's favorite episode of the series. (Oh look, here's the entire episode on YouTube):

Turns out, a few days before shooting Alison actually broke her arm and had to hide her cast in every shot. The best part of this episode is undoubtably when Laura pushes Nellie down the hill in the wheelchair. Luckily, Alison had a body double fly out of the chair and land in the pond, but she actually did have to film flying down that hill screaming - multiple times. A safety rope was tied to the chair, but Michael Landon told her that it had broke to make her scream louder.

I thought: When I started reading this book I assumed that Ms. Arngrim and I didn't have the same sense of humor because I didn't think her joke-y narrative voice was very funny. However, once I got used to it I started to like it - and by the end she totally endeared herself to me. Though she went through some very difficult experiences, she still has a very positive outlook on life. I admire that.

I was extremely touched by the part where she describes losing her close friend and costar Steve Tracy to AIDS and her subsequent work educating the public about the disease. I thought it was really cool that Alison was able to use Nellie to benefit her later in life - because everyone recognized her, she was able to go on Larry King and other shows to tell people about AIDS and sexual abuse. Though this section wasn't a very long section of the book, but it was a good note to end on.

Also - here is a clip from an interview Alison Arngrim did some time in the 80s. Isn't she pretty?? This clip made me like her even more. It's like, Nellie, but prettier and older. Crazy!

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: Though it touches on some heavy subjects, this is still a nice light, quick read. If you're not totally familiar with Little House on the Prairie, I think you'll still enjoy this book. I had only seen a few episodes in passing, though I did read the actual book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was in elementary school.

Warnings: Some descriptions of sexual abuse, some vulgar language (you could probably guess that by the title. There are some f-words in here as well.)

Favorite excerpts:
Alison Arngrim describes being a guest on a French TV show:
"The show's host, another famous Frenchman who, like Madonna, went only by the name Arthur, had been teasing the audience for the last couple hours with the promise of an upcoming special guest who had traveled all the way from the United States. He had been dropping hints, and Jamel had been trying increasingly hilarious bad guesswork to figure out who it was.
    But now Arthur dropped the big hint: 'La Petite Maison dans la Prairie!' The audience oohed and aahed. The screen began to display a slide show of pictures of various  cast members. Karen Grassle had been a previous guest on the show, so they knew it wasn't her. As each cast member's picture appeared, the audience yelled out his or her name in unison. 'Charles Ingalls!' 'Doc Baker'! 'Laura!' (pronounced 'Lohr-rah!') 'Marie!' 'Monsieur Edwards!' Finally, the screen showed a picture of Nellie. The crowd went berserk. The host told Jamel who the guest was. He roared in protest that it was not possible.
     As the Little House theme music swelled, the audience began to sing. I was backstage about to enter when I heard the entire studio audience singing--chanting--the theme to Little House on the Prairie. And there aren't any words to the theme from Little House. People don't just start singing it spontaneously in America, but they do in France. Loudly, slowly, reverently, in unison, 'Laa la la laaa, la la lalala. Laa, laa la la, la la la la laaa. . . ' My God, I thought. It's a religious cult."

What I'm reading next: Nothing by Blake Butler. (I know, doesn't it sound exciting?)