Media Reviews

Sept. 11, 2014, Herald-Journal of Spartanburg, SC
Book review by Dudley Brown:
Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface: Truth at the root of fiction
The novel Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface captures small-town life in Appalachia through more than its pages. It's a story that was originally shared by one of the author's great grandfathers in 1938.... [read more]

Aug. 5, 2014, The Tomahawk of Mountain City, TN
Book review by Lacy Hilliard:
Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface is a strange but true story of lives before the lake
Just as Old Butler, the original Fish Springs was a community that now lays deep beneath Watauga Lake. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) constructed the Watauga Dam and flooded the area of Old Butler, which had been victim to many devastating floods in the past, the raging waters took with it over 125 homes and more than 50 businesses. Also drowned were the memories of many lives past. Some memories were innocent, while others, hidden beneath the depths, are cloaked in mystery and deception.... [read more]

Elizabethton Star, Elizabethton, TN
Book review by Ashley Rader:
“A long-told tale of love, war and a snake gets a novel treatment. ... (But) this could be more than the plot for a novel. It just might be a true story ...”

Las Vegas Review-Journal
Book review by Dave Osborn:
“If you love a great story, then you’ll love Fish Springs with its Civil War backdrop and an unusual, suspicious death that’s at the heart of the story. It’s hard to put down.”

Originally published July 15, 2014, in The (Rock Hill, SC) Herald
Book review by Bessie M. Meeks:
Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface
Michael Manuel and Larry Timbs, Jr.
Historical Fiction, 265 pp.

The prettiest girl in Fish Springs, a town later drowned under the surface of Watauga Lake in eastern Tennessee, finds herself in the center of a triangular relationship with two best friends and soon-to-be Civil War veterans. Co-authored by Michael Manuel and Larry Timbs, Jr., “Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface” is a searing tale examining themes from jealousy and revenge to social impropriety and compassion, along with racial injustice and uncommon racial harmony.

Set during the mid to late 1800s, Fish Springs is a tale containing both immediacy and universality as the authors tell a love story about Mary Clemmons and Alfred White and John Williams that speaks to multiple generations. Growing up, the boys are best friends and Alfred saves John from a near drowning in the river. The prudish Aunt Caroline, who raised the orphaned Mary, practices helicopter parenting. But she is not so successful because Mary sneaks out late one night to meet a boy, and this meeting will complicate life for many of the characters in the novel.Both Alfred and John go away to fight in the brutal War Between the States, and when Alfred returns, Aunt Caroline encourages Mary to marry him. But Alfred has a war-related injury that taunts him, and Mary’s libidinal urges far exceed those of her husband. Alfred agonizes over the injury; Mary wants children; and John, whose character has become increasingly corrosive, has never stopped flirting with her. Co-authors Manuel and Timbs have written a page-turner.

Manuel and Timbs write honestly and sometimes humorously, easily gliding into back-stories about their mountain characters in a style reminiscent of that of Pat Conroy through his coastal characters and scenes. The “discreet jug sipping by a few holy worshippers” will surely bring a chuckle to the reader. But perhaps the oddest side story is that of the fur trapper Rufus who is such a scoundrel, that he is buried “with the canker worms alongside the coloreds in the Colored Cemetery.” Two women, each holding a baby in her arms, stand crying over his graveside. Although they live ten miles apart, neither woman knows the other. But when one begins crying and “carrying on so, saying the hard-working fur trapper was the father of her child, the other claims the same thang [sic], that he’d daddyed her young’un.” In these and other scenes, the reader will be amazed at how well the authors mimic the rhythms and cadence of the characters’ speech patterns to capture the witticisms of this little mountain town.

The authors craft an almost parallel love story between freed slave Isaiah and the attractive Prissy, who suffers the unwanted advances of her owner. Throughout the piece an all-knowing narrator lets the reader witness the thinking of his primary characters and a few minor characters through stream-of-consciousness. Here Fish Springs becomes dialect-heavy in parts. But not to worry, the dialect is fast paced and advances the plot so effectively that one would think he is watching the drama unfold in a mini-series.

Manuel and Timbs tell an engaging story through fresh, crisp prose written in tightly constructed sentences. Fish Springs should receive gold stars for this category. Perhaps Timbs, a former reporter, editor and journalism professor, has used his journalism skills to inform his fiction. Probably one of the best-written passages in the novel appears here:“ Constructed of hand-hewn chestnut logs, dovetail notched and chinked with clay, the cabin had withstood many a ferocious killer storm. Even when a tornado, a rarity in this part of mountainous Tennessee, struck Fish Springs, the log cabin had stood as a lonely sentinel of shelter and as a lasting testament to what man could build if he really set his mind to it.”

Romantics will love this tale, but so too will Civil War historians. Edited by Judy Geary, a lover of history and adjunct professor at Appalachian State University, the novel just may satisfy those on both sides of the argument. (Judy Geary has edited over 60 books of fiction and memoirs for the Ingalls Publishing Group.)

Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface is available at amazon.com and will be in bookstores soon.