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.