She could feel the crowd’s new attention. Her fingers flew over the strings, and by verse two she was belting out the song at the top of her lungs. She sang for joy, and she sang as if her life depended on it.
Because, she knew, it did.
Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson
I grew up on the music of Dolly Parton, my Dad would play her records as my bedtime lullabies back when vinyl was the norm, and my mother liked her songs so much that she called my sister Jolene. When my partner was sniffy about my niece having the Dolly Parton Little People Big Dreams book alongside the Stephen Hawking one as if her contribution to the world was somehow lesser, we got into quite a lengthy debate about it because Dolly Parton is a Queen for her songs alone, but throw in her charitable work with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and I’m perfectly happy to nominate her for a secular sainthood for the sheer positive impact she’s had on so many lives. Some dumb blonde.
Anyway, I’d heard a while back that Dolly Parton was writing a novel, but hadn’t thought too much about it until I was listening to Nihal Arthanayake (who I think is the best interviewer ever) interviewing a writer and a singer on Radio 5 about how to succeed recently, and after tuning in part way through the interview – that was Dolly Parton and she was talking about her new book, Run Rose Run with co-writer James Patterson. You can listen to Nihal Arthanyake’s interview with Dolly Parton and James Patterson for Radio 5 Live’s Headlines here.
I think one of the things that people love about Dolly Parton is that she doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously (famous for her one liners about not being offended by dumb blonde jokes “Because I know I’m not dumb, and I know I’m not blonde” and quipping, “It costs a lot to look this cheap.”) and in the interview she clearly isn’t precious about the book, having to ask for a reminder of the name of her male lead character at one point. Having read the book, I thought that this was really interesting because the book is so clearly a collaboration in the vein of the song writing collaborations in the book – yes, it’s kind of ghost written in the traditional sense, but James Patterson is co-credited as he might be on a song, and the heart and soul and experience of Nashville, the music industry and female country singers in the music industry is clearly coming from Dolly.
The novel follows the rise of AnnieLee Keyes from total obscurity, hitchhiking to Nashville to try for her big break she car-jacks an 18 wheeler when the driver sexually harasses her before begging a barman at the Cat’s Paw bar in Nashville to give her a chance performing her songs. While playing at the bar, AnnieLee Keyes is heard by Ethan Blake, a session guitarist for Country Music power player the reclusive superstar Ruthanna Ryder who has retired from performing in public but still records music for herself with a band in a private studio. Seeing AnnieLee’s talent as both a singer and a songwriter, Ethan introduces AnnieLee to Ruthanna, who helps orchestrate AnnieLee’s meteoric rise from nobody to superstar. But AnnieLee and Ethan have dark secrets in their past, and the closer AnnieLee comes to realising her dreams, the more determined her demons seem to drag her back to the hell she hoped she’d escaped.
I won’t pretend that Run Rose Run is some lofty work of great literature, but it doesn’t need to be. Three chords and the truth, like a great country song, Run Rose Run half relies on a predictable structure, giving the reader highs and lows before delivering an ending that they want. It’s a coffee drenched, dive bar love song to Nashville warts and all just as much as it’s the story of AnnieLee Keyes and her twisted path to the top.
Something that usually irks me about books which focus on songs and song lyrics is that unless they’re real songs, then the reader is usually left reading some fairly shonky poetry, but the lyrics in this book work well, and like Laura Barnett’s Greatest Hits, this book has an actual musical album (Run Rose Run, available to listen free on Spotify) recorded to breathe life into the imaginary songs. Except, in the case of this book, the songs are all sung by Dolly Parton, patron saint of country, with a few pretty notable male guest artists, like Ben Haggard, son of Merle Haggard who is name checked throughout the book.
I genuinely enjoyed this book for a bit of Nashville flavoured Americana, I had fun trying to spot aspects of the characters that linked back to Dolly herself, like Ruthanna’s work with the book charity, or AnnieLee’s refusal to give up her song rights as part of the deal apparently Elvis Presley wanted to record I Will Always Love You, but Dolly wouldn’t give him half the songwriting credit, a shrewd move since retaining those rights has apparently made her millions…. I think Run Rose Run would make a great summer holiday or beach read for fans of Dolly.