Synopsis: Bobby Wayner was twelve when he watched his older brother, Eldon, die on the kitchen table from a shotgun wound.’ The opening of Fred Calvert’s lyrical novel “The Balladeer” sets the tone for this striking and poignant tale about the destruction of two families. During World War II in Kentucky, farm boys Bobby and Eldon Wayner are budding balladeers. They become intrigued with a recluse farmer, “Ol’ Weber,” a German immigrant. Rumors allege that he’s a Nazi and that he‘d even murdered his own family. The boys spy on him and discover that at night he plays a mesmerizing piano tune. To write a ballad about Ol’ Weber, Eldon takes a fatal risk. Many years later, after time served in California’s Folsom Prison for a barroom killing, Bobby travels back to Kentucky. On the way, his ballads and memories tell why he’d run away after Eldon died. When he reaches home, he discovers the past has been waiting like Judgment Day.
The Balladeer is dramatic and made me what to root for a happy ending for Bobby. The timeline switches between current time, time after death of Eldon and then further back before the death of Eldon very smoothly. In the beginning, I kind of felt like Bobby was having a psychotic break when he felt like his brother was telling him to run away. Bobby enjoyed his time on the ship and then seemed to lose his will to live. He didn’t fight an unfair assumption at his trial, he goaded other inmates to fight and didn’t fight the extension of his sentence to 27 long years. It was appearing that the best years of Bobby’s life were the ones when Eldon was alive.
The story pace is steady even with the frequent time jumps. Bobby comes home and remembers the love of his parents. I think that in grief sometimes people forget that there others who also are suffering. It was so sad that he didn’t get a change to see his mother again. I was glad that Bobby got a happy ending and also reconnected with his father. Overall, good read for anyone who likes a stories of personal growth in a historical setting.