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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In this short-story tour across drifter’s country -- L.A., Nashville, the Mexican desert, Vietnam -- singer/songwriter Earle also runs the highways and byways of the human heart: its wild, irrational loves; its easy susceptibility to drugs and booze; the wanderlust that pulls cowboy minstrels onto the freeways, moving from each American small town to the next. What could be seen as rootlessness is actually, to Earle, evidence of a humane, engaged personality that rejects the anesthetized consumerism of our time: refusing to be found among the ranks of those who have “no idea where they really were, what kind of places and lives they were passing through and over.”
Earle’s heroes are rough-and-tumble types: tough on the outside, but incurable romantics beneath that leathery surface. Like their creator, most are musicians who sing of their outsized ramblings, for they are gifted with an ability to filter feelings through the prism of words: “On a good night they could stop the world dead in its tracks, dissect an otherwise ordinary moment, and glean the beauty and the drama hidden there in plain view.” This is a line from “Billy the Kid,” a kind of shaggy-dog tale about the Nashville country-music legend who could have been.
The book’s title story, about the final throes of a marriage amidst the vacant desolation of L.A. and the nearby desert, is particularly poignant. So are the pieces that channel Earle’s political activism: “Jaguar Dance” and “The Witness” tackle the plight of illegal immigration; “The Reunion” is about a pilot returning to Vietnam to close the circle of his wartime past. Not everything works so well; “The Internationale,” about the absinthe-riddled encounter between an American expatriate and an aging Frenchwoman, is hackneyed stuff. But the integrity and empathy of Earle’s writing wins you over; Doghouse Roses is the latest stage in an impressive and multifaceted career. (Jonathan Cook)