Dolly Parton: A predictable novel that will (almost) certainly make you cry - Newport Paper House


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Dolly Parton: A predictable novel that will (almost) certainly make you cry

Almost all the readers of this review will know Dolly Parton, not so much the details of her repertoire as her status as a popular icon (of the countryside, of common sense, of feminine autonomy…). Her television series, records, and movies have always portrayed her as a powerful woman, capable of standing on her own, even in times when popular culture was pre-feminist. More than her hundred million records sold, or the constant tributes she receives, the anecdote that defines her is having said "no" to Elvis Presley when he told her that he would love to interpret his "I will always love you", as long as the piece will become part of the catalog of the king's music publishing house.

Parton's rejection caused her to stop bringing in a lot of money, which was amply recouped in the 1990s when Whitney Houston recorded it for The Bodyguard soundtrack. It does not seem that we are dealing with a woman who can be easily pressured or blackmailed.

This peculiar 'feminism of the prairie' is very present in Run, Rose, Run (Backlight), her first published novel, which she signed together with the bestseller James Patterson. This former ad agency manager and billionaire writer has signed hit television series and shipped 375 million copies of his books (he was accused by the legendary Stephen King of "writing two books a day," thanks to his army of collaborators, and of being "the literary equivalent of the big mac"). Nobody is going to be surprised by the literary resources that he manages, typical of a good Saturday afternoon telefilm on Antena 3, as predictable as they are effective (I confess that I was about to cry three or four times). The book isn't going to wow critics, but it saves you a silly week.

The story chronicles the rise to fame of an aspiring country star, penniless and tormented as well as pathologically surly. He arrives in town penniless, gets a live gig, and wins over small audiences until someone tries to get him the support of a veteran star (Parton transcript). While the young woman climbs the steps three by three towards Olympus, the consequences of a dark secret emerge. "I have been in the kitchen of sorrow and I have cleaned all the pots with my tongue," wrote Zora Neale Hurston, a devastating phrase that someone uses to describe -correctly- the previous history of our protagonist.

Dolly Parton, national goddess

The first words of the young aspirant before the veteran 'country' star describe the devotion of the popular classes of the United States for Dolly Parton: "We had a poster of her in the kitchen, right next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and I thought that she was a saint! I thought she had to sing like that. I even prayed to her. I was seven years old when my mother told me one day that, although you had a divine talent, you weren't exactly a saint", recalls the protagonist, who makes her future mentor laugh.

Allergic to the eccentricities of so many artists of her status, Parton remains a reliable journeyman of the song, now also of the pen.

We nosy musicians appreciate the book's detailed description of Parton's mansion, her relationship with her band members, and Nashville's gambling den system. Even more intimate scenes between the musicians are enjoyed, such as the one in which they get entangled in a discussion about which is the saddest country song in history. The winner is “Gipsy, Joe & me”, by Dolly Parton herself, defended by Ruthanna Ryder, the character inspired by her (a game of mirrors worthy of writers like Enrique Vila-Matas). But, if we listen to the rest of the candidate lyrics, it should have swept Billy Yates' 'Flowers”, impossible to listen to without collapsing the listener's mood. The other contender is “He stopped loving her today”, by George Jones, a classic among classics. We have linked the three pieces to their title for you to click and decide.

In addition to the obligatory romantic drama in these books, we also find gritty descriptions of what pedantic progressives call "Deep America." An example? “In a place called Bensenville, Ethan walked past a butcher shop with its shutters closed and a handwritten sign that said turtle and raccoon meat was for sale. Next door he saw what might once have been a barbershop, but now it was just an empty room with a dusty tiled floor. We are talking about places scrapped by inequality in the United States, where to find someone they tell you to talk to the person in charge of the arms and pawn shop (rather than the priest) because he knows the character and miseries of almost all the neighbors.

More country songs

The story vindicates romantic love, as well as classic sentimental archetypes, especially the character of Ethan, an ex-military man marked by experience. “The years he had spent in Afghanistan had not been enjoyed, but they had shaped him. They had made a frightened and insecure boy into a man who understood the meaning of honor and duty, and recognized the kind of sacrifices those ideals required." This is the normative, protective but sensitive male character who continues to dominate the sentimental female imagery (even that of girls capable of getting by on their own). The protagonist, AnnieLee Keyes, is also an archetype close to the stereotype, but as the plot progresses it acquires human consistency and connects viscerally with the reader. He endears himself, not despite his flaws, but because of them.

The book is accompanied by a self-titled album where Parton performs almost all the songs that appear in the text. At 76, he continues to make melodies that are as simple as they are robust, such as "Demons" -a duet with Bert Haggard, Merle's son-, Lost and found and Love or Lust. Parton moves with the usual elegance between all country records, from bluegrass to Appalachian ballads, passing through country-pop refrains. Inspired and disciplined, allergic to the eccentricities of so many artists of her status, she remains a reliable songwriter. There are few accolades more honorable than that.

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