Thursday, October 24, 2013

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie - A Guest Review

House of Earth by Woody Guthrie
Published October 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: our copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Once again, I'm pleased to have The Big Guy on board for a review. He jumped at the chance to read and review this one - although I'm not so sure he was so happy about once he started reading! You'll see what I mean.

Publisher's Summary: 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.

The Big Guy's Thoughts:
I really like Woody Guthrie's music and he is obviously an American icon for the downtrodden. He continues the theme here in House of Earth with Tike, one of the two main characters (along with Ella May, his wife) going on at length about their position in life, being controlled by the bad bankers, land owners and Ella May's father, another land opportunist (no doubt true around the depression). This theme may have more relevancy in light of the most recent recession, the middle class gap and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

The other main theme of the book  was, of course, a house made of earth and was started by a USDA flier Tike picked up. He went on ad nauseum about living in a house that is easy to make, from local materials that are wind, cold, heat and critter resistant and is inexpensive to make. These were modeled after adobe houses in the southwest United States. This also proves to be a relevant theme in years to come with limited energy resources, possible global warming and the desire to have affordable and efficient shelter for the new lower-middle class.

While I found the themes interesting, and a great match to Woody's music, I was annoyed by the 'red neck' speak of the main characters and especially wanted to slap Tike regularly for being a moron. There is a 'love' scene that is fairly pornographic that was discussed in the Forward to the book as being pretty racy for the 1930s and 40's. It's cited as a main reason why it might not have been published at that time.

I do appreciate Woody's ability to write in what might be called an Okie style and keep it consistent, probably not an easy feat. A real interesting slice of Americana, but glad he stuck more to music where he had a special influence on American folk music and the labor movement.

Thanks, Big Guy! Sorry you didn't like the book better; maybe you hit on the real reasons the book wasn't published at the time it was written.

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 including us on this tour. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour.

PBS's American Masters series has an excellent documentary on Guthrie's life and music. If you'd like to learn more about the man, I'd highly recommend it.



  1. Sounds like Woody was out of his sphere on this one. I think knowing about it is interesting--actually reading it might be too daunting for me. Thanks for the review--an interesting piece of Americana I never knew about.

  2. Haha! I think you are right, Lisa, about why the book wasn't published when it was written. It's amazing the books that get published because of the author's name alone. Sometimes we're lucky and the book turns out to be very good. I guess that wasn't the case here.