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Fiction Review

The Songcatcher
By Sharyn McCrumb
Dutton, 2001
ISBN:  0-525-94488-5


Virginia author Sharyn McCrumb serves as cultural ambassador for Appalachia with her Ballad series.  Drawing on family history, folklore and legends, Ms. McCrumb captures the pioneer spirit of America.  In The Songcatcher, she weaves the present day story of Lark McCourry with that of her maternal ancestor Malcolm McCourry.  As Malcolm’s story works its way through generations to the present time, characteristics of the family carry over as well as the song he brought to this country.

Malcolm McCourry is born on a Scottish island as the midwife prophesizes that “the sea will take him.”   His parents try to protect Malcolm from drowning by giving him a magic stone.  His mother then insults the midwife, who curses the family with: “No McCourry from this day forth shall ever love best his firstborn child.  Another will always supplant it.”  As a young boy, sailors of a British ship kidnap Malcolm, and the sea takes him away.  Feeling unloved by his parents, he accepts his life as a cabin boy, and never returns home.  From Malcolm to Lark’s father, the curse between parent and firstborn child continues.    

While on the ship, Malcolm is given a song to pass on.  Following oral tradition, Malcolm learns the haunting melody of “The Rowan Stave” and passes it on through his family. 

Country singer Lark McCourry is flying home to east Tennessee to see her dying father.  She remembers only one line from “The Rowan Stave” and hopes to find the entire song for her upcoming album.  Her small plane crashes in the mountains, and finding the song becomes her reason for living. 

Sharyn McCrumb once again has created a powerful ballad story with The Songcatcher.  There is an intense emotional haste in the novel to find the song, preserve the Appalachia heritage, and connect with family.  The reader, like each generation of McCourrys, will find their truth in the lyric -- “And when he’s come back home, he will be changed – oh!”


Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

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