Today we continue our top books by state series by looking at two excellent books set in Wisconsin. This midwestern state is known for its beautiful landscape which includes forests, dunes, and access to Lake Superior. The state is also known for its dairy and beer production. The books featured today both take place in rural areas. While one of the novels features Wisconsin in a more idyllic light, the other uses the state as the setting for a series of horrific family tragedies. However, both the classic children’s book and the grim Shakespeare retelling offer beautiful descriptions of the state of Wisconsin.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House in the Big Woods is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first novel and the first in her famous Little House series. While many of the later books focus on economic hardships and the trials of homesteading, this novel instead focuses on the good thing each season brings as the Ingalls live their lives in a forest in Wisconsin. This charming novel details life in the 1870s as perceived by a child and perfectly illustrates life in Wisconsin during the 19th century. It is easy to see why these works are such enduring classics.
“The moon had risen higher and the moonlight was bright in the little open place. All around it the shadows were dark among the trees.
After a long while, a doe and her yearling fawn came stepping daintily out of the shadows. They were not afraid at all. They walked over to the place where I had sprinkled the salt, and they both licked up a little of it.
Then they raised their heads and looked at each other. The fawn stepped over and stood beside the doe. They stood there together, looking at the woods and the moonlight. Their large eyes were shining and soft, I just sat there looking at them, until they walked away among the shadows. Then I climbed down out of the tree and came home.”
Laura whispered in his ear, “I’m glad you didn’t shoot them!”
Mary said, “We can eat bread and butter.”
Pa lifted Mary up out of her chair and hugged them both together. “You’re my good girls,” he said. “And now it’s bedtime. Run along, while I get my fiddle.”
When Laura and Mary had said their prayers and were tucked snugly under the trundle bed’s covers, Pa was sitting in the firelight with the fiddle. Ma had blown out the lamp because she did not need its light. On the other side of the hearth she was swaying gently in her rocking chair and her knitting needles flashed in and out above the sock she was knitting.
The long winter evenings of fire-light and music had come again.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
David Wroblewski’s 2008 novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a critically acclaimed Hamlet retelling, complete with a play within a play performed by dogs. This Wisconsin-set novel replaces Hamlet with mute Edgar and Denmark with a dog breeding business.
He woke one morning tantalized by an idea: if he could catch the orchard trees motionless for one second – for half of one second -- then none of it would have happened. The kitchen door would bang open and in his father would walk, red-faced and slapping his hands and exclaiming about some newly whelped pup. Childish, Edgar knew, but he didn't care. The trick was to not focus on any single part of any tree, but to look through them all toward a point in the air. But how insidious a bargain he'd made. Even in the quietest moment some small thing quivered and the tableau was destroyed.
How many afternoons slipped away like that? How many midnights standing in the spare room, watching the trees shiver in the moonlight? Still he watched, transfixed. Then, blushing because it was futile and silly, he forced himself to walk away.
When he blinked, an afterimage of perfect stillness.
To think it might happen when he wasn't watching.
He turned back before he reached the door. Through the window glass, a dozen trees strummed by the winter wind, skeletons dancing pair-wise, fingers raised to heaven.
Stop it, he told himself. Just stop.
And watched some more.
Join us next time for our final installment when we take a look at books from the great state of Wyoming!