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Bradley M. Blair

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  • The Ballad of Tom Dooley

  • A Ballad Novel, Book 9
  • By: Sharyn McCrumb
  • Narrated by: Shannon McManus, Eric Dove
  • Length: 9 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 69
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 57
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 59

The Kingston Trio’s folk song “Tom Dooley” tells the story of the murder of Laura Foster, a simple country girl involved with returning Confederate soldier Tom Dula. But Tom was also engaged in a passionate affair with his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful - and married - Ann Melton. One May morning in 1866, Laura Foster stole her father’s horse and left home, telling a neighbor that she was eloping to Tennessee. Three months later, her body was found in a shallow grave only a few hundred yards from where she was last seen.

  • 1 out of 5 stars
  • Disappointing

  • By Scott E. Walters on 11-23-11

Stranger Than Fiction

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-23-17

Being well acquainted with the author's tallent for storytelling and her habbit of meticulous historical research from her work on The Ballad of Frankie Silver, which I also reviewed, I went into this book expecting strong narrative, lots of period detail, and fleshed out characters. I wasn't disappointed in any of these expectations.

The novel is a first-person retelling of the events that ultimately led to the hanging of ex-Confederate army soldier Tom Doola, twice convicted of the murder of Laura Foster and hanged at Statesville, North Carolina on May 1, 1868. The story of that murder is told, with many changes to the facts, in the famous song ‘Tom Dooley'" recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1958. The story as told in the novel is based far more on the facts and posits Ann Melton as the killer, with Doola as the accomplice after the fact who helped dispose of the body. That alone would have been enough to hang him in any case.

The novel is told in two first-person voices, performed by two narrators. The main voice is the character of Paulene Foster, a syphelitic, and possibly also a sociopathic, young woman who was a cousin both to Ann Melton and Laura Foster, all three of whom having been erstwhile sexual partners of the accused. The protagonist, if that's the right word for her, is a cold, ruthless person with no regard for anything or anyone. I say she may be a sociopath, though, because at several points throughout the story, she communicates that she doesn't understand emotions and has to remind herself to simulate the socially expected emotions at various times. She also displays a seemingly total amorality concerning anything we might frame in terms of right or wrong Altogether she is a character we don't like and can't root for. She is, to the end, coldly calculating, and she walks off the last pages of the novel, and out of history too for all we know, very much the same.

The other narrative voice is that of Zebulon Vance, ex-Confederate governor of North Carolina, who served as Tom Doola's lead defense counsel and represented him pro bono. Vance is telling this story in retrospect. He is an experienced politician, and it is his advancement in politics that motivated his brief stints as a lawyer. The whole affair seems to be a brief, minor, and unfortunate legal case for him. Indeed, I'm not sure it wound up in his actual biography. It is his narrative voice that relates the events surrounding the actual hanging of Tom Doola, and it is his voice that ends the story. Doola hangs, Melton walks free, and Paulene Foster fades into the obscurity of history.

Overall, this story is very good, but it isn't as good as The Ballad of Frankie Silver. There are several reasons for this, in spite of similar narrative devices. Firstly, there is no one in this novel who remotely warrants our sympathy. Tom Doola, for example, may well have still been guilty of a hanging offense, if not the murder itself. And even if, as the story suggests, he was baptized and died with his spiritual affairs in order, one cannot help but regard his life as a waste and his execution as exactly what one would have expected. None of the Foster cousins, excepting the murder victim, are given any redeeming qualities that would make us like or at least sympathize with them. Finally, the character of Zebulon Vance comes across as not particularly invested. He's a man with a job to do and does it. All this leaves the reader wanting to like someone or to care about someone, and we can'!. cannot. All in all, I'm left with the feeling that the world is well rid of these trifling low-down scumbags. And that's not the feeling you want, usually anyhow. Still, it's undoubtedly a feeling brought about by the author's skill in depicting these people as they were, without exaggeration or softening of the facts of their characters for the sake of story. So while it's a little unusual to read a story with no heroes and where no one warrants our good feelings, this is such a story.

  • 11-22-63

  • A Novel
  • By: Stephen King
  • Narrated by: Craig Wasson
  • Length: 30 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 51,990
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 47,287
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 47,191

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King - who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer - takes listeners on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • not my Favorite King story

  • By Ronald Garey on 02-11-19

The Past is Obdurate

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-20-16

"I have never been what you'd call a crying man." This opening line of the novel sticks out to me the way that Proust's, "For a long time I used to go to bed early," might stick out to someone else. This novel follows the adventures of Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine who, on the dying request of a friend, takes advantage of a temporal anomaly to go back in time and try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
This sort of novel is a departure from King's more horror-driven stories like Christine and The Stand. I enjoyed the way he doesn't gloss over and glorify the 1950's and early 1960's. Great-tasting food and soda is balanced out by ubiquitous cigarette-smoking and the smells of New England textile mills and Texas oil fields. Ward and June Cleaver-like families and hospitality is balanced out by Jim Cro segregation and contemporary racism.
I also enjoyed the way the past fought against being changed. In so much sci fi, such as star trek, it's emphasized how easily the past can be changed and how careful time travelors have to be. In King's 11/22/63, the past throws roadblocks at you because it's not supposed to be altered. His trademark tag phrase, "The past is obdurate. It does not want to be changed," recurs often.
I like the exploration of counterfactual history at the end of the book as Jake returns to the present and explores the consequences of saving Kennedy. THe overwhelmingly negative consequences, most of them not really related to Kennedy, demonstrate two things. One is the butterfly effect, the idea that changes in one part of a huge system can have cascading and unpredictable changes throughout the rest. The other point King makes is that for all we know, the history we have is the best out of a number of worse alternatives. Jakes decision to hit the reset button and undo all the changes, good and bad, that he set in motion is a deeply personal and completely believable decision.
King's afterward is a great add-on. Like King, I too believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. We really want to find other shooters and shadowy government agencies because, like Al Stephens put it, we just don't want to believe that a nobody like Oswald could figure out a way to bring down a great man like President Kennedy. Still, it happened, and this novel is a great exploration of those events.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • The Ballad of Frankie Silver

  • By: Sharyn McCrumb
  • Narrated by: Barbara Rosenblat, Jeff Woodman
  • Length: 14 hrs and 2 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 74
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 43
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 47

Award-winning, New York Times best-selling novelist Sharyn McCrumb crafts absorbing, lyrical tales featuring the rich culture and lore of Appalachia. In the compelling The Ballad of Frankie Silver, she deftly weaves past and present with legend and truth to create a suspenseful portrait of tragic death.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • A nice little change of pace.

  • By Daniel on 10-01-04

A Present in Retrospect

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-20-16

The story of a young woman sentenced to die for the murder of her husband in 1830's western North Carolina is framed by a present-day story of an east Tennessee Sheriff who is considering the nature of guilt and innocence as a man he sent to prison is set to undergo Tennessee’s first execution in decades. Overall, the story is a great drama about the ambiguity of guilt, the fairness or lack thereof of capital punishment, and of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.
I’ve researched the case of Frankie Silver, a real person hanged for a real crime. The book has inspired me to want to visit Morganton, North Carolina and see the Silver case archives for myself. I am very happy with both the historical detail that Mccrumb wove into the story as well as with the ways in which she exercised her artistic license. The Ballad of Frankie Silver is a story that both entertains and causes one to think, and thus, it’s very much a success.