To say that Loretta Lynn’s life has been interesting and unusual would be the understatement of the year. Born in tiny Butcher Holler, Kentucky, she remembers times when her family’s poverty meant a bed on the floor and nightly dinners of bread dipped in gravy. She married at 13 and became a mother a year later. At 18, she already had four kids, and at 29, she was a grandmother.
Meanwhile, though she had no connections or formal musical training and little education, she rose quickly through the ranks of country music. Now one of the field’s biggest stars, she has garnered two gold records, countless industry awards, and a fat bank account.
While these facts certainly help to make Lynn’s story compelling, her distinctive personality contributes even more to her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter (written with George Vecsey). Reflecting her intelligence and wide experience as well as her conservative background and limited education, her often seemingly contraditory philosophy makes for consistently fascinating reading.
On the one hand, for instance, she champions women’s rights and wonders whether her man-on-top marriage might be a mistake. Yet she says that she doesn’t support the women’s liberation movement, and despite some troubles, she remains with the man she wed at age 13.
Still very much the coal miner’s daughter at heart, she often sounds more like a fan than a star. Among her closest friends, in fact, she counts the three sisters who head her own fan club.
The book’s as-told-to format is both a plus and a minus. The perspective afforded by a third-person tale would have further illuminated and intensified many of the passages. But New York Times reporter George Vecsey, who first met Lynn when he was covering coal-mining conditions in Appalachia, has nevertheless done a wonderful job of editing the singer’s taped narrative. The result, which well evokes Lynn’s experience, deserves a wide audience.