Finished in 1947 and lost to listeners until now, House of Earth is Woody Guthrie's only fully realized novel - a powerful portrait of Dust Bowl America, filled with the homespun lyricism and authenticity that have made his songs a part of our national consciousness. It is the story of an ordinary couple's dreams of a better life and their search for love and meaning in a corrupt world.
Tike and Ella May Hamlin struggle to plant roots in the arid land of the Texas Panhandle. The husband and wife live in a precarious wooden farm shack, but Tike yearns for a sturdy house that will protect them from the treacherous elements. Thanks to a five-cent government pamphlet, Tike has the know-how to build a simple adobe dwelling, a structure made from the land itself - fireproof, windproof, Dust Bowl-proof. A house of earth.
Though they are one with the farm and with each other, the land on which Tike and Ella May live and work is not theirs. Due to larger forces beyond their control - including ranching conglomerates and banks - their adobe house remains painfully out of reach.
A story of rural realism and progressive activism, and in many ways a companion piece to Guthrie's folk anthem "This Land Is Your Land", House of Earth is a searing portrait of hardship and hope set against a ravaged landscape. Combining the moral urgency and narrative drive of John Steinbeck with the erotic frankness of D. H. Lawrence, here is a powerful tale of America from one of our greatest artists.
©2013 Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. Introduction copyright © 2013 Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers
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"The Dustbowl Balladeer"
A disciple of Guthrie's would probably read this book and come away with praise for Guthrie's great insight into the future, his prophet-like prescience about global warming. And I'd probably have preferred to hear their views rather than the hour plus introduction by Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp. Their collaborative intro is about 1/5 of the book, and while it gives some interesting information and background about Guthrie, it felt subjective and agenda-laden towards the end. Brinkley admitted the two made some *minor changes to the novel's text*, and had I known Depp and Brinkley had taken their pens to Guthrie's pages before I picked this up, I would have opted out.
After the extended introduction, not much happens; a comment I read summed this book up better than anything I could come up with, "An acre of soliloquy for every inch of action." The next half of the novel details the sex between Tike and his wife. Guthrie's descriptions are detailed, blunt, and as gritty as the Dustbowl. The banter between the copulating couple goes on for pages. I wonder if this novel could even have been published during Guthrie's time...Henry Miller's writings were banned from America, and his novels of the "pastoral days of wine and fornication" page for page were no more gritty than Guthrie's opening chapters.
The novel jumps ahead a year. The writing and story improve, but not the couples' state of poverty, and the land is eclipsed by the Dustbowl. In a powerfully beautiful passage, Tike describes the first bawls of his newborn in a string of adjectives that connects the cry of the infant to the cry of the wind, the dust working into the crevices, the locusts chewing on the stalks of wheat, the cry of the homeless and poverty stricken. A heart wrenching bit that validated an otherwise mediocre read. Guthrie's writing style is often streams of adjectives and thoughts tumbling out of his characters and filling pages. This is no Grapes of Wrath - but I doubt that was Guthrie's intention. House of Earth worked for me only as a little piece of insight into Guthrie, and I'm not recommending unless you are one of those Guthrie disciples, or have read other books by Guthrie. There's the possibility that Guthrie wanted other books to represent him -- maybe he left this one unpublished for a reason.
Patton is always amazing, but I while I wouldn't mind his oaken sultry voice whispering sweet nothings in my ear, it was almost - no, it was - uncomfortable listening to him re-enact Tike and Ella in the throes of passion.
"I didn't finish the book"
I liked the introduction, and the reading was very well done and appropriate to the story. Unfortunately, I wasn't far into the book before it really became more porn than story. It's too bad, really, because I suspect that if this hadn't prevented me from listening any further, I might have enjoyed the story itself.
I'm sure others would not have a problem with it, but it's not my cup of tea.
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