The Ballad of Laurel Springs

Written by Janet Beard
Review by Susan McDuffie

This multi-period novel traces the lives of a family of Tennessee mountain women from a brutal murder in 1891 to the present day. This violent inheritance is mirrored by the old-timey ballads passed down through the family over the years. The stories of the nine women intertwine, as their threatening legacy plays out, generation after generation. The novel also brings the changing life in the East Tennessee mountains over the past century into focus. A new school, logging, national parks, strip malls and mini-golf transform the old country life of Tate Valley into a summer tourist attraction for outsiders. The changes, and the interrelated stories of these women, are splashed with scarlet, as the menace voiced in old mountain songs such as “Pretty Polly” and “The Knoxville Girl” weave a bloody red streak through the gentle green of mountain laurel. Yet the songs and the women endure.

Janet Beard, born and raised in East Tennessee, knows the area well, and her love and understanding of the locale, its people, and its music, inform this riveting book. Lovers of folk music will find that the old songs linger in their minds long after the book is completed, as do the stories Beard tells us. However, although the reader is transported to the Southern mountains, the violence and deadly secrets these women live with are not limited to the Appalachians. The Ballad of Laurel Springs throws light on a dark heritage carried through history by many women, in myriad times and places. A compelling read.