The Ballad of Tom Dooley (McCrumb)

  • Title:The Ballad of Tom Dooley
  • Author: Sharyn McCrumb
  • Date: March 2012
  • Genre: “A Ballad Novel” (according to the library of congress classification this is fiction, however the author makes a great deal of effort to explain that it is indeed a true story, as true as she could gather from what evidence is left – no names or places were changed at all)
  • Library: Jacksonville Public Library

I must say I greatly enjoyed this novel. I had never thought much about the story behind the song (made famous by the Kingston Trio back in 1958). Apparently there was a subsequent movie but from the synopsis I read it had nothing to do with the true story at all. This telling would make an especially intriguing movie. Definitely a worthwhile read.

The author tells the story from the perspective of Pauline Foster, a distant cousin who she has presumed had much more hand in the fate of Tom and Ann than anyone else thought. She notes that in most of the court documents Pauline is referred to as simply “the servant girl”. This story really gets into her head and shows the whole messy love triangle ordeal as being merely a puppet show led by the sly sociopath distant cousin who came to stay with relatives after contracting syphilis from the many soldiers she made her living off of during the Civil War.

I think what’s interesting about this tale is the perspective and the way it sheds light on the least likely individual. Pauline is a compelling character, who sets out to destroy her prettier cousin who she believes is taking advantage of what her looks offer her. Ann has a relatively good-looking, financially stable, hardworking and loving husband…but she squanders that by frivolously continuing to run around with her childhood lover and expecting to be treated virtually like a queen in her own home, never lifting a finger even for her children’s sake. I think many of us would be far to moralistic to do what she did, but we can certainly understand how she felt about Ann. Poor Laura is merely the bait in her whole charade. And Tom, well he’s just a sucker in love and his final act of love is the likes of which Ann Melton certainly did not deserve…something beautiful self-centered cold-hearted woman often receive as is still evidenced today.


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