A moving and essential exploration of what it takes to find your voice as a woman, a survivor, an artist, and an icon. The first time Lynn Melnick listened to a Dolly Parton song in full, she was 14 years old, in the triage room of a Los Angeles hospital, waiting to be admitted to a drug rehab program. Already in her young life as a Jewish teen in the 1980s, she had been the victim of rape, abuse, and trauma, and her path to healing would be long. But in Parton’s words and music, she recognized a fellow survivor. In this powerful, incisive work of social and self-exploration, Melnick blends personal essay with cultural criticism to explore Parton’s dual identities as feminist icon and objectified sex symbol, identities that reflect the author’s own fraught history with rape culture and the arduous work of reclaiming her voice. Each chapter engages with the artistry and impact of one of Parton’s songs, as Melnick reckons with violence, misogyny, creativity, parenting, friendship, sex, love, and the consolations and cruelties of religion. Bold and inventive, I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive gives us an accessible and memorable framework for understanding our times and a revelatory account of survival, persistence, and self-discovery.
Lynn Melnick is the author of three books of poetry and a contributor to Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Her poems have appeared in the New Republic, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review; her essays have appeared in Jewish Currents, LA Review of Books, and Poetry Daily. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Seven Bridges Road
Chapter One: Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That
Chapter Two: Steady as the Rain
Chapter Three: The Seeker
Chapter Four: Here You Come Again
Chapter Five: Jolene
Chapter Six: The Grass Is Blue
Chapter Seven: Coat of Many Colors
Chapter Eight: Islands in the Stream
Chapter Nine: Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
Chapter Ten: Will He Be Waiting for Me
Chapter Eleven: Down from Dover
Chapter Twelve: Silver Dagger
Chapter Thirteen: Don’t Think Twice
Chapter Fourteen: I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby
Lynn Melnick’s new book is an ode to storytelling itself, how it keeps us alive and makes our lives more worth living, whether in music, poems, or even a biographical memoir that winds two stories together to make something stronger and more beautiful than either would be alone. A gorgeous and heartrending story of survival.
It is a mighty task to write generously, robustly, and imaginatively about Dolly Parton, who already exists so broadly at the intersection of many American imaginations, all of them flourishing and fluorescent. But what Lynn Melnick has managed is beyond mere tribute, and beyond biographyit is a rich, close reading of multiple lives that sometimes find themselves touching. The narratives in this book are masterfully presented and do justice not only to the life of its central subject but also to the life of its writer.