Gene Lyons
May 13, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Let’s get one thing settled right up front. In the unlikely event anybody ever doubted it, Reba McEntire is as country as they come. Back in southeast Oklahoma, where she got her twang, Reba’s Great-Grandpap slept with chickens, her Daddy was a three-time world champion tie-down steer roper, and her Mama was a saint. ”There is a special place in heaven,” the singer assures us, ”for people as unselfish as Mama.”

Practically born on horseback, Reba was herding cattle on her Daddy’s ranch before she started school. The young Reba wolfed down ”mountain oysters” (fried bull testicles) and worked her way into show business by way of rodeo barrel racing and the Kiowa High School Cowboy Band. She believes in baptism by immersion, knows she’s going to heaven when she dies, and still has the little brown hymnbook she sang from as a child in a one-room country church back in Chockie, Okla.

Now Reba says she’s written Reba: My Story with Tom Carter (Bantam) to make at least one thing clear: All that stuff they’ve printed in the Star about her taking away people’s husbands is nothing but lies, lies, lies. But she did fall in love with her first husband-a steer wrestler by trade-after he threw another cowboy who had insulted Reba clean through a plateglass window. ”I was a little shocked and embarrassed by Charlie’s actions,” she confides, ”but kind of impressed too.”

As for Charlie’s leaving his wife, Reba was ”shocked. Flabbergasted. Astonished.” Why, all she had ever done was sit on his lap after a few beers at a rodeo in Lubbock, Tex., and plant a kiss on his lips.

Now in the long run, Charlie turned out to be a shade too bossy for an independent woman like Reba. But then the typical steer wrestler tends to be a tad aggressive. Just as your average barrel-racing, mountain-oyster-eating Oklahoma cowgirl tends to be a little on the feisty side herself. It’s one of the things that makes country music country music-and keeps divorce rates high out in the heartland, too. And if Reba and Charlie’s own breakup in ’87 turned mean and got splashed all over, that doesn’t mean she never loved him. She surely did. As she told the fan who scolded her for serving as a poor role model: ”No one is perfect but God.”

Well, fine. But if Reba doesn’t want to be a role model, and she felt it necessary to write a book at all, why didn’t she write one for grown-ups? This vapid snoozer reads like a homily for a sixth-grade Sunday school class, only with more exclamation marks. Funny thing is, Reba, who married manager Narvel Blackstock in ’89, sings about tangled adult emotions all the time-in a voice that resonates with the music of the spheres. Sure, she has recorded more stinkers than any headline artist in Nashville, and somebody should tell her that while she is cuter than a speckled pup, recent videos that try to give her an image of Hollywood glamour succeed mostly in making her look awkward. But when Reba gets it right in songs like ”Whoever’s in New England,” she can leave a person just sitting there in the pickup all teary-eyed and laughing at the same time. Her autobiography, however, is pure saccharine.

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