My Old True Love

Written by Sheila Kay Adams
Review by Alice Logsdon

The Appalachian Mountains around Marshall, North Carolina, in the mid-19th century is the setting of this narrative. Like the ancient ballads brought to the region by English, Scottish and Irish settlers, it deals with lost love and heartbreak. As Arty Wallin narrates, her brother Hackley and their cousin Larkin grow up fascinated by the old songs their Granny teaches them. Hackley, with his pure tenor voice, has a natural ability on the fiddle, and with women. Larkin’s voice has a deeper, more haunting tone, best suited to mournful ballads. While they compete to see who can sing best, it’s good-natured fun. However, when they both fall in love with the same girl, Arty foresees only heartache.

There is another level to this story. Arty’s narrative underscores the Civil War’s impact on those far removed from the big cities of the North and plantations of the South. These people weren’t slave owners. They weren’t involved in industry or agriculture beyond what they needed for their own subsistence. Some, like Arty’s father and husband, followed personal conviction in choosing sides. More often, men and boys were conscripted before they could make a choice. Families and communities split over these issues. Further, while the battlefields were far away, local militias unleashed more violence than they contained. As for the women, the war forced them to take on new roles, ones that were hard to give up later.

Sheila Kay Adams borrowed from her own family history in writing this novel. The inclusion of the lyrics of many old ballads adds dimension and tone. Making good use of mountain vernacular, Adams magically lifts the reader to another place and time.