Dolly Parton is an indisputable American cultural icon: instantly recognizable, much derided and (perhaps paradoxically) deeply respected. But there's more to Parton--both the musician and the woman--than rhinestones, outsize boobs and Southern twang. In her second nonfiction book, She Come by It Natural, journalist and lifelong Parton fan Sarah Smarsh (Heartland) delves into Parton's roots, her long career, her business empire and the smart but subtle feminism that has won Parton such legions of fans.
Originally published in roots-music magazine No Depression as a four-part serial, Smarsh's exploration traces the arc of Parton's career from the cheerful "girl singer" performing alongside Porter Wagoner to a big-time headliner in charge of her own contracts, copyrights and destiny. Smarsh, a native of rural Kansas, shares her early memories of listening to Parton's music (and that of similar strong women) in the car with her mother and grandmother, the music resonating across all three generations. She discusses how Parton's music has always championed the working-class woman whose struggles are largely invisible. Her songs have become anthems for listeners who never studied feminist theory but who will stand up to any force, male or economic, that threatens their livelihood and their self-respect.
Along the way, Smarsh examines the criticism--both class- and gender-based--that Parton has received over her half-century in music. While it includes sharp social commentary and well-placed personal anecdotes, She Come by It Natural is at its heart a love letter both to Parton and to the women who continue to see themselves in her songs. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams