Monday, October 28, 2013

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie (3 stars)

About House of Earth

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 22, 2013)

Finished in 1947, 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.

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 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.


Woody Guthrie is best known as the writer of an American classic: "This Land is Your Land". He was greatly influenced by the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression--"also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s" (source).

This novel is beautifully written, almost poetic, which makes sense with the author's songwriting background. Broken up into sections, the story focuses in great detail on Tike and Ella's struggles of the day. In a time when people had little to nothing, Tike and Ella have each other but not much else. The focus for most of the book is their desire to just have a real house. But much of the book is spent on their sex life, although I can appreciate this was one of the few things they found happiness in, and subsequent birth of their son.

I only wish there had been more of a story and plot. Woody Guthrie lived in these desperate times, and I can only imagine the material he could have injected into a story for Tike and Ella. As it is, this novel feels more like a novella written in conjunction with a much more epic piece.

In some ways, the Introduction was more gritty and interesting than the story itself. I do recommend it to readers who love poetic prose and a look into part of our nation's history.

Rating: 3 stars

About the Author

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (1912-1967) was an American folk balladeer whose best-known song is “This Land Is Your Land.” His musical legacy includes more than three thousand songs, covering an exhaustive repertoire of historical, political, cultural, topical, spiritual, narrative, and children’s themes.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on the House of Earth blog tour page.


Anonymous said...

I love when "long lost" manuscripts are published - it's like finding a treasure!

Thanks for being on the tour!