Review: 'She Come by It Natural,' Sarah Smarsh on Dolly Parton

www.latimes.com
6 min read
standard
Sarah Smarsh, who sought to debunk myths about the white working class in "Heartland," follows up with the Parton tribute "She Come by It Natural."
On the Shelf She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs By Sarah Smarsh

Scribner: 208 pages, $22

If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookstores.

Sarah Smarsh grew up in Kansas, and in her 2018 memoir, "Heartland," she gave voice to the working-class and poor community in which she had come of age. It was a sharp rebuke to a cadre of journalists and pundits who had pushed a popular media narrative during the 2016 presidential election: that "working-class" voters had turned to Trump out of "economic anxiety." The story soon resembled a perpetual motion machine as college-educated reporters undertook expeditions into heartland diners in search of those who fit the preconceived narrative — a practice that continues to this day.

Smarsh pushed back against such condescending characterizations throughout the 2016 campaign, and against the blame-the-poor focus of books such as "Hillbilly Elegy." In "Heartland," she detailed the daily struggle of those working service or farm jobs to not only put food on the table but also access basic medical care. She herself had worked many of those jobs, so knew what she wrote about firsthand.

The author's follow-up is both surprising and completely of a piece. "She Come by It Natural" is a paean to cultural icon Dolly Parton, who emerged from her poverty-stricken upbringing in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to become a country superstar and philanthropist. Smarsh argues that the mischaracterizations of poor people that plagued campaign coverage had also slighted the country singer, with the added insult of typecasting her as "a dumb blonde."

Advertisement

She is not the first fan to reassess Parton's reputation. In recent years, the LGTBQ community has embraced her as an ally, and not only for her public statements of support. She once entered a "Dolly Parton lookalike" drag contest and lost. She has inspired doctoral…
Lorraine Berry
Read full article