My Old True Love

My Old True Love

by Sheila K Adams

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Overview

My Old True Love sings and lives and breathes with joy and sadness and every emotion in between.”*
 
The Stantons and the Nortons were family in the truest, oldest sense: an extended network of kin stretching across the Appalachian mountains, their ties to the land as strong as their ties to one another. So when Larkin Stanton is left parentless at birth in the 1840s, he is taken in by his cousin Arty Norton, and true to the family way, Arty teaches Larkin the old Appalachian ballads the family has sung together for centuries. But when Arty’s brother, Hackley, leaves to fight in the Civil War, Larkin finds himself drawn to Hackley’s wife, the woman who has held Larkin’s heart for years. What Larkin does about that love defies all he has learned about family and loyalty—and reminds us that those mournful mountain ballads didn’t come just from the imagination but from the imperfections of the heart.
 
“Something ancient and wonderful resides in Sheila Kay Adams’s heart, and we are lucky indeed that she has chosen to share this knowledge with us through the words of this fine, beautifully wrought novel.” —*Silas House, author of Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves
 
“Deeply satisfying storytelling propelled by the desires of full-bodied, prickly characters set against a landscape rendered in all its beauty and harshness.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616207533
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/27/2005
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Sheila Kay Adams is an acclaimed performer of Appalachian ballads passed down for seven generations through her own ancestors. She has been a featured performer in several documentary films, served as Technical Director for the film Songcatcher, contributed to The Last of the Mohicans, and was cohost and coproducer of Public Radio's Over Home. She performs year-round at major festivals throughout the United States, as well as in the U.K. She has three children and lives with her husband, Jim Taylor, in Madison County, North Carolina, where she was born.

Reading Group Guide

1. In My Old True Love, Sheila Kay Adams uses the dialect of her Appalachian home. Did Arty’s dialect and informal way of speaking pull you into the story immediately or did you find it distracting? How would the telling of this story been different if Arty’s speech had been more conventional?

2. What does the first paragraph tell you about the narrator? What does it reveal about Arty’s personality?

3. How did Arty know her aunt had died? Did you find the exchange between Arty and the midwife believable? What symbolic meaning does swapping the buckets have?

4. The oral tradition of ballad singing is an important and integral part of My Old True Love. It makes an early appearance during the deathbed scene when Arty says, “Crazy-like, the words to an old love song run through my head.” Over twenty-five songs were written in part or in entirety throughout the book. Did the songs seem a natural occurrence and appropriately placed? How do they provide insight into Arty’s culture? How did this tradition influence Hackley and Larkin’s relationship?

5. Why do you think Granny allowed Arty to take over Larkin’s care? What did Arty mean when she said, “From the day he was born, my arms had carried him, but that very day was when my heart claimed him for my own”?

6. Did you find the custom of “hanging” someone with a name odd? What customs do you practice in your own family that outsiders might think odd?

7. Why do you think so many of the important scenes in My Old True Love take place on the porch? What are some examples?

8. Arty relates many fond memories of childhood. When do you think Arty realizes she has moved beyond these carefree days? Do you think she wishes she had chosen a different path than that of wife and mother? Explain.

9. Why did Larkin live with Zeke and Arty only for a short time? What happened between Larkin and Hackley when Larkin moved back in with Granny? Do you think this would’ve happened if Larkin had continued to live with Arty? How would this have changed the story?

10. What does Arty do that reveals her superstitious nature? Where else in the book is this revealed? Do you think Arty may be clairvoyant and have what mountain people refer to as “second sight”? Explain.

11. Did the bawdy humor of the women surprise you? The story is peopled with flawed but strong women. Did you most identify with one particular woman? If you could choose to be like one of the women, which would you choose? Why?

12. When Arty says Hackley might have been little but had that way of moving that women just loved, what kind of picture does that statement paint of him in your mind? Do her expressions and sayings help you visualize other characters in the story? Give some examples.

13. What does Granny mean when she tells Larkin, “You got nothing to lay forever out next to, nothing to measure it against”? Death has always been an accepted part of life in the Appalachian culture and is an important aspect of the book. How does this compare with our attitudes today? What are Arty’s religious beliefs, and how do they differ from her mother and those of Granny?

14. How does Arty describe Mary, and when does she realize the extent of Larkin’s feelings for her? Is there any indication that Mary is encouraging Larkin? Explain.

15. There are so many complex relationships in the book that resolve in one way or another. Do you think there was a relationship between Larkin and Julie and how (or was it) ever resolved?

16. There are so many opportunities for Arty to tell Mary about Hackley’s womanizing. Why do you think she chooses not to tell and advises Larkin to do the same? How might the story have been different if Arty had told Mary about Hackley and Maggie at the political gathering on Shelton Laurel? What would’ve changed had Larkin told her?

17. A large part of the population in western North Carolina was pro-Union during the Civil War. Often it was truly brother against brother. What were Arty’s feelings about the war? Was she ever in support of either side? Explain.

18. When Zeke leaves for the war, Arty is expecting her seventh child. Why do you think she struggled to hide how she really felt from Zeke? What does this say about Arty? How do the war years change Arty?

19. Arty often says there are situations in our lives that change us forever. In your opinion, what single event in the story brings about a profound change in Arty? Explain your choice.

20. How does Arty cope with the deepening relationship between Larkin and Mary? What decision does she finally make? How does this affect the outcome of the story?

21. Arty has such conflicted feelings for her brother, Hackley. She obviously loves him but strongly disapproves of his behavior. Give some examples of this. How does she react to his death?

22. Why do you think Larkin avoids Arty when he returns from the war? When he tells her he’s no longer a boy, she responds with, “Don’t wind up being a stupid man.” Why does she say this? What happens after their conversation?

23. After Mary and Larkin marry, Mary tells Arty that she feels that she has somehow betrayed Hackley. Arty replies, “Life is not for the dead and gone. It is just for the living.” After the birth of Roxyann, Arty is troubled by Larkin’s behavior at the spring. How are the two connected? Explain.

24. How does Arty try to intervene as Larkin changes? What does she mean when she says that Larkin’s sickness was “the greater sick of his soul?” What happens that seems to cure this? What was Larkin searching for?

25. How did Mary change when Larkin left? Why wouldn’t she share Larkin’s letters with Arty? How does Arty’s final letter from
Larkin set the scene for Larkin’s homecoming?

26. Were you surprised by Larkin’s story about Hackley’s death, or did you suspect it all along? Did you believe Larkin when he said he loved Hackley? What were Arty’s feelings?

27. Did your opinion of Mary change in the last few pages of the book? Explain.

28. Arty’s growth and development were irrevocably connected to nature and the land. How does the summing up of her life support this? Do you think the last sentence is an appropriate ending for the book?

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