{guilty pleasure madness}

As I’ve said several times before, I am actually an old woman. High on the list of my guilty pleasure reading material, then, is author Anne Rivers Siddons. I’ve previously written on my all-time fave book of hers, Colony, and I picked up Peachtree Road last weekend at the library book sale and immediately dove in.

PR is full of Siddons’s favorite themes: the South, love, betrayal, madness, family loyalty, I could go on. Basically everything that (for me) makes a real cozy page-turner. Cousins Shep and Lucy could not be more different, but growing up together in 1940s’ Atlanta left them forever bound together in ways that brutally and even fatally cripple both of them. Shep is the rich heir of distant parents, plagued by his own sensitivity and sabotaging loyalty; Lucy is the unloved oldest daughter of a social-climbing mother who never recovers after being abandoned by her father at the age of six. The book follows them through their tumultuous adolescence all the way through middle age, as Lucy flits from husband to lover to husband and Shep retreats further and further into self-imposed isolation in the house he grew up in.

Colony remains my favorite Siddons work. While certainly dark, there’s a larger sense of beauty, mostly rooted in the New England coasts and Charleston swamps of its setting. PR is dark all the way through. Through its setting, some action from the civil rights movement is included, but this takes a back seat to the internal demons constantly plaguing the characters, primarily Lucy. The love between Shep and Lucy is twisted and warped, with little to no redeeming gladness. Certainly an interesting psychological study, but not necessarily the kind I look for in a guilty pleasure reading. Their Catherine-Heathcliff bond was a little too much for Siddons to tackle.

One of Siddons’s greatest strengths, I think, is her description of place, and PR did not disappoint. In an early speech from Shep that may very well have been taken from Scarlett O’Hara fifty years earlier, he explains why he never left Atlanta:

It’s passionless, calculating, self-satisfied, intolerant, insensitive, uncultivated, vulgar, even soulless . . . but it’s alive!

That’s what I keep coming back to Siddons for.

{because i’m actually an old woman}

I mentioned in a previous entry that when starting Maine, I was reminded of Colony, a particular favorite of mine. So, natch, I decided to feature Colony in this week’s favorites.

Colony is one of those books that always surprises people when I count it among my favorites, namely because I think Anne Rivers Siddons’s target audience is primarily much older ladies. IndieBound calls it a romance, which while I don’t entirely agree and certainly wouldn’t consider myself a romance novel fan, kind of makes sense. Despite my earlier uncertainty about the term, I definitely would call Colony a “beach read.”

In short, Colony is the story of one woman’s life in her wealthy in-laws’ summer beach retreat (seeing the similarities to Maine already?). Maude Gascoigne has grown up a wild child in the swamps outside of 1920s Charleston, South Carolina (Siddons is primarily known for her Southern-set novels), but when she and Peter Chambliss fall in love at first sight, she quickly finds herself transplanted among the austere Chambliss clan, who are considered New England old money at its finest.

The Chamblisses spend summer in Retreat, a summer “cottage” in a beach community with rigid divides between the locals and the rich city folk that only come for the warm weather. Maude, already feeling out of place and backwards in her new family, immediately rebells against the strict traditions of the colony. Over the following decades, she struggles to define her own identity and keep her troubled family together at the same time.

One of my favorite things about this book is how none of the characters are normal. They’re pretty much all tragically flawed. You’d think this would get old or exhausting, but for me it expands what might otherwise be a pretty fluffy read into a epic, a testimony to 20th-century New England. There are very few characters that you actively root against as a reader; mostly you’re just praying that somehow, against impossible odds, Maude won’t lose her family to bipolarism, panic disorders, suicide, alcoholism, promiscuity, and the like.

Also memorable are Siddons’s descriptions of place, both the small amount in South Carolina and the wild coasts of Maine that take up most of the book. The flavors of the settings—both geographically and over the span of decades—are strong and enjoyable. (Maybe that’s what makes a good beach read…)

This week’s been pretty crazy, so I’m actually fairly impressed I’m managing to post at all. As I read over this, it seems singularly chaotic and disjointed, which is a pretty fair respresentation of my mental status at the moment. Guess I’ll quit while I’m not too far out of whack!