Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., July 20, 2001
by Steve Earle
Houghton Mifflin, 207 pp., $22
Fans of Steve Earle's music already know the Texas native is a hell of a writer. From his early years fronting the Dukes on through the wasted days and wasted nights of Copperhead Road (which, fittingly, featured a track teaming Earle with that other great, besotted, romantic revisionist, Shane MacGowan of Ireland's Pogues) to his current, cumulative sobriety, the guy's always had a way with a lyric. Sometimes stories are just lyrics without the music; they tend not to rhyme all that often, and they go on a bit longer, but the words are flowing from roughly the same dim location.
Doghouse Roses confirms the gnawing suspicion I've had for a number of years that this particular guitar slinger might also make a fine author. (And if Dwight Yoakam can direct a film, why shouldn't Earle -- a grittier, less honky-tonkin' version of Yoakam's Buck Owens archetype -- put pen to paper to Barnes & Noble?) The 11 stories that make up Doghouse Roses won't come as much of a surprise to those already in Earle's camp -- though fans should get a kick out of the expansive background to songs like "Taneytown," here redone in short-story form and reading for all the world like Joe R. Lansdale minus the zombie rednecks. Earle covers the same territory here as he does in his music. Last-call broken hearts and alcoholic bloozehounds abound like gravel pit weeds, the love affairs on display are so doomed they died a million years before their first glance, and in the best of the batch ("The Witness"), Earle plays mix 'n' match with murder, redemption (or lack thereof), and capital punishment in a story that wouldn't have been out of place in Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine. He can even get away with using "The first time he saw her he loved her" as an opening line, believe it or not. Steve Earle's musical heart has always been pure and strong; now we know his literary one beats just as true.