Sheila Kay Adams brings us a novel inspired by the ballads of the English, Scottish, and Irish. These long, sad stories of heartbreak and betrayal, violence and love, have been sung for generations by the descendents of those who settled the Appalachian mountains in the 1700s. As they raised their children, they taught them first to sing, for the songs told the children everything they needed to know about life.
So it was with the Stanton family living in Marshall, North Carolina, during the 1800s. Even Larkin Stanton, just a baby when his parents die and he's taken in by his cousin Arty, starts humming before he starts talking. As he grows up, he hungrily learns every song he can, and goes head-to-head with his cousin Hackley for the best voice, and, of course, the best attentions of the women. It's not long before the two boys find themselves pursuing the affections of the same lovely girl, Mary, who eventually chooses Hackley for her husband.
But, just as in the most tragic ballads, there is no stowing away of emotions. And when Hackley leaves his wife under his cousin's care in the midst of the Civil War, Larkin finds himself drawn back to the woman who's held his heart for years. What he does about that love defies all his learning of family and loyalty and reminds us that those mournful ballads didn't just come from the imagination, but from the imperfections of the heart.