Monday, September 07, 2015

House of Earth

Hi everyone,

House of Earth is a long-lost novel written by Woody Guthrie in 1947. While preparing to celebrate for the folk singer's 100th birthday, someone found the manuscript tucked away in a box. I don't know how Johnny Depp got involved, but he's magic like that sometimes. He and his friend author/historian Douglas Brinkley edited and got the book published through Johnny's new publishing imprint, called Infinitum Nihil, under a division of HarperCollins. While I intended to only flip through the book in person at my local Barnes & Noble, I got so excited seeing Johnny's name on the cover that I ended up buying it. (I also felt obligated since the person who helped me to find the book, which should have been out on display somewhere, dug it out of storage for me.)

House of Earth tells the story of Tike and Ella May, a poor couple living in a run-down wooden shack on a farm in the Texas Panhandle. Encouraged by a government pamphlet, Tike dreams about building an adobe home, one that would protect them from the elements of the Dust Bowl region, but this goal appears endlessly out of reach. Though they love the land they live on, they do not own it, and they are hindered by their status in life, big business, and inevitable changes that are beyond their control.

Even though I bought this book when it was first published in 2013, I just got up the courage to read it now. I'd seen the Ken Burns documentary about The Dust Bowl, and I didn't want to be further depressed by that subject. I'd seen Bound for Glory, the movie about Woody Guthrie, and I couldn't get excited about him either. (Aside from his most famous songs, I don't know much about Woody Guthrie. I told my friend a few weeks ago that I know him most for being Arlo Guthrie's dad.) It wasn't until I recently finished watching the Foo Fighters' series Sonic Highways, which featured the New York music scene and included interviews with one of Woody Guthrie's daughters about his life and influence there that I decided to open the book.

House of Earth is a good, quick read. I'm not going to lie: my favorite part of this book is its introduction, not only because Johnny Depp helped to write it, but because it taught me more about the author, his life, and the context in which House of Earth was written. It also highlights and explains passages and plot points, which helped me understand the history and reasons behind them. What I like best about the novel itself is the writing. The story is a slice of life about proud people in unfortunate circumstances. The characters are fully developed and realized right down to the way they talk. House of Earth reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (see my review here) because it captures a specific pocket of time and people so accurately. At times, I could tell the book was written by a songwriter; some of the passages were poetic, set with their own rhythm. I also loved that the book included artwork by Woody Guthrie on the cover and throughout its pages, fully immersing readers into Woody Guthrie's world. While House of Earth is more of an introduction for me to Woody Guthrie's artistry, fans will welcome it as an authentic piece of his vast body of work.


No comments: