Guthrie’s Dust Bowl novel, set in Great Depression-era Texas, is layered just as his songs were: on the surface are common words, common characters, and common feelings; further digging (as deep as you’d like to go) reveals great insight, passion, and poetry. Fueled by Guthrie’s own fascination with someday owning a piece of land and built-by-hand adobe house (a dream itself inspired by a five-cent USDA how-to pamphlet) House Of Earth is an everyman’s stew of rawboned fiction and thinly-veiled autobiograhical emotions.
Guthrie’s book feels like a stage play, offering scenes rather than chapters. Central characters Tike Hamlin and his wife Ella May seem destined to live out their days on their rundown dirt farm with their wooden shack slowly falling apart around them. Ella May is the more grounded of the two (although she left the security of a wealthy family to marry Hamlin) and focuses on the day-to-day; Tike fluctuates between periods of head-down, back-bent labor and spiraling off into moments of goofy fantasy and daydreaming. (“His hard work came to him by spells and his lazy dreaming came over him to cure his tired muscles.”) She knows the cows have to be milked and another layer of old newspaper needs to be pasted over their worn-board walls to attempt to keep some of the weather on the outside; he bucks a pretend horse around in a circle in an impromptu moment of foolishness and yanks at his hair in frustration at the injustice of the haves and the never-wills. Guthrie proves that the two are meant for each other, however (one could say that he had to in order to justify his own way of life), in moments as pure and simple as hand-in-hand walks or as fiery and erotic as their lovemaking in the hay of their cowshed. Despair is never far away in this world, but love holds it at bay.
Read the conclusion of my review of House Of Earth on Jambands.com by clicking HERE.