cover image The Ballad of Laurel Springs

The Ballad of Laurel Springs

Janet Beard. Gallery, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982151-56-0

Beard follows The Atomic City Girls with an intriguing multigenerational saga of a family steeped in the old-time songs and stories of southern Appalachia. The novel, which traces the lives of nine female relatives over generations in the mountains of Tennessee, unfolds through linked chapters titled after ballads that touch on their lives, among them “Little Sparrow” and “The Wayfaring Stranger.” It starts with Grace Caton, age 10 in 2019, who writes a school project about an ancestor who killed somebody long ago at Laurel Springs, made infamous, says her family, by the murder ballad “Pretty Polly.” Then the story moves back to 1907 with her ancestor Pearl Whaley, a mountain woman who believes her long-dead sister Polly haunts the spot in the mountains where she was murdered. Pearl is visited in the remote village by a songcatcher, who records the ballads and folk songs she sings. Subsequent decades follow with more ghost stories from Pearl’s relatives, tinged with regret and loss, informed by the timeless lyricism of the songs, and culminating with a poignant revelation about Grace’s immediate family. This inspired story of Appalachian folklore will move readers. Agent: Rayhane Sanders, Massie & McQuilken. (Oct.)