In the chapter 'Dolly Parton Masters the Art of Leaving,' Smarsh offers some of her most insightful thoughts on Parton’s songwriting. Tracing in detail Parton’s complex relationship with her boss/mentor/collaborator/antagonist Porter Wagoner, Smarsh discusses the tangled binds that sometimes push women to leave painful relationships that have gone on far too long ... Smarsh writes with conviction about the particular struggles of living in poverty. Wisely, she grounds these discussions in a recognition of white privilege, but her primary focus is on the nature of economic hardship and its impact on women’s decisions ... Smarsh weaves together an integrated picture of what the Parton podcast calls 'the Dollyverse' ... The material in She Come by It Natural first appeared in the music magazine No Depression, unfolding quarterly in four longform pieces throughout 2017. Smarsh made the conscious decision not to update the original perspective, and one result is that this short book becomes an intriguing snapshot of one writer’s engagement with a fraught year of rapidly shifting cultural turmoil ... Smarsh finds a sweet spot between biography and memoir that lets her move nimbly between her personal affection for Parton’s impact on women’s lives and her journalistic analysis of Parton’s artistry, business acumen and iconic role in our quick-changing zeitgeist.
Smarsh probes (though not too deeply) into the problematic aspects of a few shows at Dollywood, and tries to unravel the connection between Parton's business smarts, her acceptance (and proud display) of her own sexuality and the feminism she has been reluctant to (publicly) embrace. The emphasis is heavy on Parton's status as an example and icon to thousands of women ... 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.
... a bracing personal account that celebrates how Ms. Parton has given a liberating voice to an often ignored segment of the American working class—resilient and independent-minded blue-collar women ... Through the years, and even after Wagoner’s death in 2007, Ms. Parton has played down and publicly forgiven the abusive treatment at his hands. Ms. Smarsh puts back the hurt and sting ... Bristling with sharp insights and righteous anger ... a moving account of how Ms. Parton’s music has helped 'hard-luck women' make their own escapes from deadbeat men and dead-end lives.
...[a] passionate, smart, and earnest new
book ... the author uses details from Parton’s life as well as her own
female family members’ to show the moving if unsurprising fact
that country women’s lives are sad.Parton, one of 12 children,
lost an infant sibling likely because of poor nutrition; Smarsh’s
grandma Betty was physically or emotionally abused by at least
three of her six husbands, and her mother was pregnant with her
at 17 ... As Parton reaches her pinnacle—becoming a massive
entertainment player...the story becomes, perforce, less interesting, dutifully
hagiographic, and point-stretching. Yes, Parton was an
'ambassador' of unnamed feminism and a hero to the women
Smarsh 'grew up among in rural Kansas.' But do these Parton inspired women really still, or did they even then, 'not know who
Gloria Steinem is'? ... Smarsh’s early thesis—that Parton and women of her background
can teach Ivy League women’s-studies majors a thing or two—
turns, by book’s end, into a different lesson. Parton is not only
'someone who acts ‘trashy’” yet 'has more class than most'—yes,
that trick is a big, lovable part of her brand—but she is also
someone who is sensible, stable, and shrewd. at she’s spent the
vast majority of her life with such apparent equanimity may say
something about what she learned from overcoming dirt poverty,
but it also has a lot to do with psychological good fortune, which
can be, socio-economically, an equal-opportunity provider.
...an ambitious book that explores what Parton represents for the rural poor women often left out of social justice movements. Drawing on the experience of her own Kansas family, Smarsh uses Parton’s life to show what women’s empowerment can look like in slices of society where 'feminism' is a dirty word, and how Parton—like many women outside of wealthy, college-educated circles—practices a brand of 'implicit feminism.' ... Smarsh tells the story of Parton’s early life with a fan’s loving eye—and it’s easy to see why ... The idea that Parton can bridge these gaps starts with her very real talent for talking—and singing—about the place she is from. As Smarsh puts it, country music like Dolly’s showed her that her own rural home, which was 'invisible or ridiculed elsewhere in news and popular culture—deserved to be known, and that it was complicated and good.' ... Smarsh’s study of Dolly, like her earlier book, Heartland , narrates a cultural schism between America’s urban and rural places.
What sets Smarsh’s project apart is her focus on class, as well as the personal experiences she brings ... This book is a kind of reclamation project, beginning with that typecast persona ... Smarsh isn’t shy about critiquing some of her other business ventures, including the dinner theaters formerly known as 'Dixie Stampede' ... a praise song for the cultural icon, but what emerges from an examination of Parton’s life and work is just how much relevance her lyrics have had — for Smarsh and for other women — and why so much of the writing in the book is deeply personal.
This wonderful little book sits firmly at the intersection of pop music and social commentary ... This book is an homage to Dolly and women like her, written with humour and compassion and a big dose of admiration.
The most vivid character in She Come By It Natural, though, is Smarsh’s Grandma Betty ... Observing contemporary feminism’s class-blindness, Smarsh is trying to write women like her own grandmother back into a cultural narrative that she believes has unduly ignored them ... Parton herself is such a slyly masterful curator of her own story and selfhood that it can sometimes feel like all there is to know about her—or at least all she’s going to let us know about her—is already out there. And so, as a Parton fan myself, I can’t say I learned much new information from Smarsh’s book. She Come By It Natural is at its best when it’s in memoir mode, rather than treading the well-worn road of Parton’s biography or, worse, using Parton as an all-encompassing filter through which to view and make sweeping conclusions about very recent cultural history ... Smarsh is correct to criticize feminism’s past and present waves for not talking enough about class. But her analysis often cuts a little too close to the academic-theory-indebted identity politics she elsewhere so vehemently critiques...Her read cannot quite explain the vast spectrum of Parton’s fan base, which includes conservative grandfathers, young queer folks, and just about anybody in between.
Like a modern-day Mae West, Parton is endlessly quotable and fun to read about, but the book is also enriched by its glimpses of the women in Smarsh’s Kansan family, especially her grandmother, Betty, whose way of talking she borrowed for her title.
In this affectionate and astute cultural study, Smarsh...shines a light on Dolly Parton’s struggles and path to becoming the queen of country music ... It’s a sharp narrative...as Smarsh illustrates that even when Parton conquered the man’s world in the mid-1980s, she was still treated as less capable than men in the industry ... Smarsh’s luminescent prose and briskly tempered storytelling make for an illuminating take on a one-of-a-kind artist.
This book...explores Parton's musical and cultural contributions. It also tells stories about the women so often at the heart of Parton's songs ... A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans.