A Review of
House of Earth: A Novel
Reviewed by Brett Beasley.
On January 29, 1961 a 19-year-old aspiring folk singer travelled from Minnesota to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey to meet the man he most admired who was suffering from the neurodegenerative disorder known as Huntington’s disease. After their meeting the older man sent his young admirer a card. It read, simply, “I ain’t dead yet.” Whether it was meant as a sly joke or a heroic declaration, this statement proved to be strangely prophetic. The following year the young man released his debut self-titled album, Bob Dylan, which included “A Song to Woody”. Dylan’s subsequent career—like those of Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Tweedy, and countless others—would go on to cement Guthrie’s place in America’s national consciousness.
Guthrie’s body of work even continues to live a life of its own as Guthrie’s friends, fans, and family members discover new additions to his vast treasure trove of unpublished writings and unrecorded songs. A notable example is the three-volume set by Billy Bragg and Wilco entitled Mermaid Avenue,which set scores of previously unheard Guthrie lyrics to music. But the biggest surprise of all came last year at the time of Guthrie’s centennial when the scholar Douglas Brinkley and the actor Johnny Depp announced that they were editing Guthrie’s long lost novel House of Earth for publication.