One year. And what is a year? A Year is something that can be added on, but it can never be taken away. Yes, added on, earmarked and tagged, counted in signs of dollars and cents, wrote down the income column and across the page with names, and photos can be taken of faces and clipped onto the papers, and the prints of the new baby's feet can be stamped on the papers of the birth, and the print of the thumb going back to work can be stamped onto the papers to say it is a good place to work. And a year is work. A year is that nervous craving to do your good job and draw down your good pay, and to join your good union.
And a year of work is three hundred and sixty-four, or five, or six days of the run, the hurry, the walking, the bouncing, and the jumping up and down, the arguments, fights, the liquor brawls, hangovers, headaches, and all. Work takes in all climates, all things, all rooms, all furrows, all streets, all sidewalks, and all the shoes that tramp on them. The whirl and roll of planets do not make a year a year, nor the breath of the trifling wind, changing from cold to hot, forming steam back into ice. Oceans of waters that flow down from the tops of the Smokies and roll in the sea, they help some to make a year a year, but they don't make the year.
--from pp. 101-102 of House of Earth (Uncorrected Proof - some changes may be made to the final print version)
House of Earth by Woody Guthrie is a February 2013 release from Harper, so I jumped the gun a bit by reading it in December. But I'm from Oklahoma, we claim Woody, and I was reading a book about the Dust Bowl at the time (although I didn't finish it) so I really, really wanted to read a novel set during the Dust Bowl.
As it turned out, I had a terrible time getting into House of Earth and, in fact, fell asleep reading it every day for about a week. Had I not made it to the final section of the book (and I did consider abandoning House of Earth numerous times), I would have missed the best part.
In the beginning, Tike and Ella May Hamlin muse about their dream to buy a parcel of land on which to farm and build an adobe house, even while having sex -- for about 32 pages or so. And, then pretty much all they talk about is the farm, their dreams, work that needs to be done and sex, sex, sex. There is one point when Tike shouts at the house and you get the initial hint that this moment is not about the house alone but an expression of his frustration at being stuck in a dead-end cycle of poverty, living as a sharecropper and renting a falling-down house from a wealthy man who is not about to sell a workable piece of land and lose his regular income.
I confess I may not have caught the meaning at that point, if not for the introductory notes, although eventually the symbolism is clarified. At any rate, Ella May is happy, even though she's taken a major step down in the world by marrying Tike; and, later you'll find out why.
The first 2/3 or so of House of Earth is so buried in Tike's sexual urges and Ella May's cutesy responses that I found it difficult to see through to the purpose of the story. But, in the final section a year has passed. Ella May is bursting with child. It's winter and Ella May is fiercely determined to make a new life for the family. Now, sharecropping is no longer a tolerable inconvenience but a danger for her coming child, who will have to live with dust and wind coming through the walls. That fine dust from ruined fields caused a kind of pneumonia that could kill.
During the final section of House of Earth, it seemed to me that all the symbolism buried earlier in the book went from fuzzy to overt and I could look back at the story and understand how the adobe house Tike wanted to build not only represented their dreams but the concept of self-sufficiency as a basic tenet of life that all people deserve to attain with hard work.
However, Tike was so very, very irritating that I gave the book an average rating at Goodreads, even though I felt like House of Earth was deeply meaningful, in the end. The huge amount of sex talk was exhausting. No wonder I kept falling asleep. Maybe all that sex and sex talk was a parallel to the concept of the desire to give birth to the dream of owning their own home and land, growing things on it, etc.?
At any rate, I was so startled by the clarity of the final section and how it pulled everything together that I considered giving the book a high rating on that basis alone. And, you can see from the quote above that House of Earth definitely had its moments. But, I decided in hindsight it would be crazy to highly recommend a book that fell into the sedative category till the final 40 pages.
3/5 - Recommended only to people who can tolerate lengthy sex scenes and appreciate symbolism. Boring to me, till the final section, which pretty much knocked my socks off. There is little about the Dust Bowl, itself; it is a setting -- maybe even an allegorical character, nature as the force of poverty, both unrelenting. There's a lot of merit to House of Earth but too much that I detested about it. One more fun quote:
". . . Ahhh. Ding bust this dad-ratted old dod-rotted radio to the south pole and back, anyhow!"
In other news:
- I planned on staying on Holiday Blogging Break till Kiddo goes back to school but he still has a full two weeks before classes begin and my sidebar was getting a little on the heavy side with 11 books read since I wrapped up posting in 2012. So, here I am.
- When Blogger forced the new interface on us (no, I still don't love it, although there are some features that are definite improvements) they narrowed the colors available for highlighting text. I'd noticed that, but this is the first time I've gone looking for brown and realized there are no brown shades at all. The color I used to highlight House of Earth is as brown as it gets, that nasty yellow ochre the darkest shade of yellow available. Yeeeuck.
- I'm reading The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley (another February release, from WilliamMorrow) and I think it might be a good one for group discussion if you don't mind getting into controversial territory. I'll likely finish that, tonight. Can't seem to put it down.
- I've had no luck loading videos at YouTube, recently (I get an error message, every time) but I have a tremendously fun video of Isabel watching the Christmas train go round and round the tree, batting at it and occasionally going around the tree in the opposite direction to watch it coming toward her. She was utterly fascinated with the train. Trust me, you'd love it.
- I've bought and received a few books during my break (and have a big sack ready to donate). I'll try to gather the new arrivals for a portrait, soon. Usually, I have a specific shelf for incoming books but it's just become The Cookbook Shelf. My husband has an affinity for Very Fat Cookbooks. I shall have to adapt.
How is 2013 going for you, so far?
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