I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive
On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton
American Music Series
Sales Date: October 4, 2022
When everything fell apart for Lynn Melnick, she went to Dollywood. It was perhaps an unusual refuge. The theme park, partly owned by and wholly named for Dolly Parton, celebrates a country music legend who grew up in church and in poverty in rural Tennessee. Yet Dollywood is exactly where Melnick—a poet, urbanite, and daughter of a middle-class Jewish family—needed to be. Because Melnick, like the musician she adores, is a survivor.
In this bracing memoir, Melnick explores 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 grueling effort to reclaim her voice in the wake of loss and trauma. Each chapter engages with the artistry and cultural impact of one of Parton’s songs, as Melnick reckons with violence, creativity, parenting, abortion, sex work, love, and the consolations and cruelties of religion. Guided by Parton’s music, Melnick walks the slow path to recovery in the company of those who came before her and stand with her, as trauma is an experience both unique and universal. Candid and discerning, I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive is at once a memoir and a love song—a story about one life and about an artist who has brought life to millions.
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 biography--it 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.
— Hanif AbdurraqibLynn 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.
— Melissa FebosA riveting blend of cultural criticism and memoir...In her quest to 'be more Dollylike, rising again and again from the embers of expectation,' Melnick offers a gorgeous story of survival and self-discovery. Die-hard Dolly fans won’t want to miss this.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive is more than an artful memoir; it is thought-provoking cultural analysis of a beloved icon whose relevance endures.
[Melnick] writes with remarkable vulnerability and candor yet ensures that the often-painful memories she relates don’t cloud her critical gaze. She moves gracefully between confessional and analytical registers, her prose both sharp and full of heart.
— The AtlanticDiscarding the societal demand to keep quiet about her own trauma, Melnick structures the book as an inquiry into the music of Dolly Parton that 'unmired' her when she first found herself in a drug rehab program as a teenager in the 1980s. It’s Dolly Parton’s music that offers transcendence in Melnick’s life from then on, and she scrutinizes Dolly’s songs and their personal and cultural impact in a mixture of biography, critical investigation, music journalism, social history, and invocation. 'It’s a refusal of secrets,' Melnick writes in the final chapter about a song that Dolly is singing, but this is also a perfect summation of her book.
— BOMB MagazineThere is rich texture in the details Melnick shares of her life, which she weaves into Parton’s history and the backstory of each song, with Parton’s hardships and struggles as much an inspiration to Melnick as the star’s thrilling success...This is absolutely the book for any Dolly Parton fan, full of anecdotes and intricate history of The Leading Lady of Country. It was empowering and inspiring to read the stories of these women (Parton and Melnick) and to know they have made something of the ashes left when others lit a match.
— Southern Review of Books
- 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
- Chapter Fifteen: Little Sparrow
- Chapter Sixteen: 9 to 5
- Chapter Seventeen: Two Doors Down
- Chapter Eighteen: Put a Little Love in Your Heart
- Chapter Nineteen: Blue Smoke
- Chapter Twenty: Bargain Store
- Chapter Twenty-One: The Story
- Acknowledgments: I Will Always Love You
- References and Resources