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Book Review: ‘House of Earth’ by Woody Guthrie

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House of Earth by Woody Guthrie is a recently published novel by the famed folk singer. The novel was finished in 1947 and is the only fully realized novel by him.

Ella May and “Tike” Hamlin live and farm on the Texas Panhandle. The couple has a wooden farm shack, however Tike wants a better house that will protect his family from the elements.

Tike buys a government pamphlet and learns how to build an adobe house. The structure will be made of bricks that are baked from the earth itself and is fireproof, windproof, bug proof, cold proof and… Dust Bowl proof. However Ella May and Tike have to contend with powerful forces beyond their control, ranch conglomerates, banks and more.

Book Review House of Earth by Woody GuthrieHouse of Earth is much like the singer’s lyrics, full of criticism and powerful imagery of the American farmers who suffered mightily during the dust bowl.

The book was a strange one, poetic and lyrical on some pages, yet annoying on others. Parts of the novel were fun to read, others where difficult to get through.

The two main characters seem to be in love, but Guthrie goes on for pages after pages writing sex scenes, which I’m sure would have shocked people in the 40s, but today, with “erotica” being a mainstream genre, they are no longer so. It seems as if Guthrie confused sex and love, physical closeness with emotional dependency.

Of course, when you work the land many hours a day and take few showers a week/month, maybe physical intimacy is all you have.

That being said, Guthrie certainly knows how to tell a story, his description of the land and the struggles the people go through are poignant and some of them even relevant to this day.

The highlight of the book, for me, was the essay introduction by famed historian Douglas Brinkley and actor Johnny Depp. The essay put the book in the context of the times, helped me understand the narrative, intentions and state of mind of the author.

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

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