Monday, October 31, 2011

The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb - REVIEW

I had high hopes for this book right from the beginning, and couldn't wait to start it. I knew I would breeze right through it because it is everything I am interested in: a great author, a great setting (time period and location), and a phenomenal storyline with the type of characters that I love reading about.

Book Summary:

A literary triumph—what began as a fictional re-telling of the historical account of one of the most famous mountain ballads of all time became an astonishing revelation of the real culprit responsible for the murder of Laura Foster

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley…The folk song, made famous by the Kingston Trio, recounts a tragedy in the North Carolina mountains after the Civil War. Laura Foster, a simple country girl, was murdered and her lover Tom Dula was hanged for the crime. The sensational elements in the case attracted national attention: a man and his beautiful, married lover accused of murdering the other-woman; the former governor of North Carolina spearheading the defense; and a noble gesture from the prisoner on the eve of his execution, saving the woman he really loved.

With the help of historians, lawyers, and researchers, Sharyn McCrumb visited the actual sites, studied the legal evidence, and uncovered a missing piece of the story that will shock those who think they already know what happened—and may also bring belated justice to an innocent man. What seemed at first to be a sordid tale of adultery and betrayal was transformed by the new discoveries into an Appalachian Wuthering Heights. Tom Dula and Ann Melton had a profound romance spoiled by the machinations of their servant, Pauline Foster.

Bringing to life the star-crossed lovers of this mountain tragedy, Sharyn McCrumb gifts understanding and compassion to her compelling tales of Appalachia, and solidifies her status as one of today's great Southern writers.

My Thoughts:

I have to be candid and say that the reviews on this were so amazing that it kind of set me up to think that this book could have no faults...I usually know better than that. Not to say that this book was bad, my criticisms do not lay with the story but more the delivery simply because it left me confused.

Honestly, this story was slow and it was hard for me to get through it. In fact, took me over a week and I can usually tackle a historical fiction novel in about two days. And what frustrates me the most is that this isn't a bad story, it was just hard to keep interested in. I started out fascinated by the legend that has haunted North Carolina for a while now so I thought I would breeze right through.

The story bounces back and forth between the actual character involved in the storyline and the lawyer, Vance, who ends up defending them. It is told from Pauline's point of view, but it is convoluted with so much repetition (really because Pauline and Vance repeat things each other have said and even themselves from time-to-time) and hard-to-follow details that it makes it hard to invest in her or the supporting characters. And with all of the repetitions between Vance and Pauline's stories, I found myself becoming somewhat bored with it.

The murder mystery was a good element of the story, but I am not sure I ever clearly understood what happened, which may have been the author's point. I know the author tried to explain it, but it was hard to follow until the Author's Note where we got all of the possible scenarios. I do have to commend the author here, I think this was the best part of the book.

The author did do a phenomenal job with the setting...I really felt like I was with Pauline on those dirt roads and the muddy terrain. I love Southern Appalachia, and any novel set there captures my attention. She described it all perfectly. I think this was one of the strongest attributes of the novel, for sure. Pauline's character was great too, but I just couldn't relate to her complete lack of emotion and indifference to even her own child. But on second thought, I believe that she was a great character because that is probably exactly how she was in real life. Just because I can't identify doesn't mean the author didn't do a great job. However, I do think that is one of the hardest things for me about this book.

I hate it when a book that I just knew I would love turns out like this...elements that I really did like, but some that I just couldn't get past. It is really frustrating, but you just can't love them all.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading Ballad of Tom Dooley. I do agree with you, that it was slow. But, I still enjoyed the book. I have never read her books before. But, I hope to in the future. I went out of my comfort zone reading this one. Merry Christmas, and thank you for your post.