Radical American folk singer Guthrie, gone 45 years now, turns in an accomplished if somewhat symbol-dense piece of fiction.
Edited, at least to an extent, by prolific historian Douglas Brinkley and movie star and boho-lit fixture Johnny Depp, Guthrie’s foray into prose (not his first: his 1943 Bound for Glory remains an iconic autobiography) is set on the Texas plains in the howling, unsettled Dust Bowl era. The new civilization of banks, deeds and lawyers is represented by wood, which is scarce out in that wind-blasted, dry country; adobe, sun-dried mud brick is the virtuous stuff of the people, themselves wind-blasted and creaky with aridity but stiff-necked and disinclined to bow down. The metaphor figures, in countless permutations, throughout Guthrie’s novel, as it evidently did in letters of various confidants, including one from Woody to actor Eddie Albert (yes, of Green Acres fame) in which he writes excitedly, “Local lumber yards dont advertize mud and straw because you cant find a spot on earth without it, but you see old adobe brick houses almost everywhere that are as old as Hitlers tricks, and still standing, like the Jews.” That nicely enigmatic statement stands up alongside other motifs, including Guthrie’s apparent approval of large women who could give birth to a whole new human race. Written in the shadow of Steinbeck, Guthrie’s novel layers on social realism without propagandizing overmuch; his straightforward depiction of his raw rural characters are reminiscent not of any of his fellow Americans so much as they are of Mikhail Sholokhov. The folksy, incantatory exuberance is all Guthrie, however: “I’m glad to see you! I’m just about th’ gladdest that any man ever was to ever see any womern! Whew! Come in! Blow in! Watch out there! Your clothes are blowin’ plumb off!”
An entertainment—and an achievement even more than a curiosity, yet another facet of Guthrie’s multiplex talents.