Far beyond the recently resurrected "Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.
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] 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.
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.