A novel about nine generations of one family in Eastern Tennessee whose women, in eerie echoes of the notorious Appalachian murder ballads made famous by singers over more than a century, have been traumatized by acts of violence.
Each chapter is like a story unto itself, but the ballad thread is always there, pulling the reader through the crisis that arises in the chapter and how it affects the protagonist as well as the people of Tates Valley. The characters are well developed through visual description, Tennessee dialect, and narrative that entices the reader into each story. Beard’s writing brings the premise of each chapter to life, allowing the reader to become the protagonist of the moment, experiencing the situation in which she finds herself ... Each situation intrigues the reader to turn to the next page and the next making it hard to put the book down. Beard has posed interesting situations, tying them together throughout the story on the tenuous threads of ballads borne of a true situation, but with that truth misplaced over the ensuing years, leaving only the ballad.
Each woman's story is connected to other stories by strands that we sometimes miss as they are almost buried in the narrative. It's later that we read a passage and think, 'Wasn't there something about that before?' Some connections are more apparent ... Like a master puppeteer, Beard also manipulates some strings that appear again and again ... Beard does not prettify these women ... In fact, she shows us women who are at the center of the violence as they allow it to happen or act in a manner that causes the violence.
While all the stories are compelling with a poignant ring of truth, most indeed turn out not nice ... These fragments, while sometimes disjointed in time and space, continually sung by different voices, nonetheless merge into a coherent whole, a distinctly Southern song that gets into the heads of readers and won’t let go.