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3.7 20
by Anne Rivers Siddons

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The year is 1966, a time of innocence, possibility,and freedom. And for Atlanta, the country, and one woman making her way in a changing world, nothing will be the same . . .

After an airless childhood in Savannah, Smoky O'Donnell arrives in Atlanta, dazzled and chastened by this hectic young city on the rise. Her new job as a writer with the city's Downtown


The year is 1966, a time of innocence, possibility,and freedom. And for Atlanta, the country, and one woman making her way in a changing world, nothing will be the same . . .

After an airless childhood in Savannah, Smoky O'Donnell arrives in Atlanta, dazzled and chastened by this hectic young city on the rise. Her new job as a writer with the city's Downtown magazine introduces her to many unforgettable people and propels her into the center of momentous events that will irrevocably alter her heart, her career, and her world.

Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
Siddons has had a solid winning streak with her seductive portrayals of plucky southern gals holding their own in alien territory, so she's stayed with a sure thing: Smoky O'Donnell is a pretty, curvaceous shanty Irishwoman straight from the docks of Savannah. Smoky is an anomaly in her small, angry world: a young woman with ambition, talent, and a wide-open mind. It's 1966, and change is in the air, especially in the newly glamorous mecca of Atlanta. Smoky is lucky; she's been invited to join the chummy staff of a hip little city magazine. Blunt, determined, and passionate, she soon finds herself caught between two extremes: the wealthy, Waspish power elite and the volatile civil-rights movement. Siddons devotes a lot of ink to describing the conflicting dynamics of this time and place and often seems overwhelmed by material we sense is close to her heart. In fact, for the first 100 pages or so, she seems to be driving with the brakes on. When she does let loose, she treats us to some irresistible romance as well as an unusual, if cursory, dramatization of the struggle between the Black Panthers and followers of Martin Luther King, Jr. What's intriguing about Siddons is how much she transcends the usual parameters of fluff fiction, both in terms of literary finesse and penetrating intelligence. Although this isn't quite up to the caliber of her last book, "Hill Towns" , it's still a rewarding and bound-to-be-popular page-turner.

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The first thing I saw was a half-naked woman dancing in a cage above Peachtree Street.

It was a floodlit steel and Plexiglas affair hung from a second-story window, and the dancer closed her eyes and snapped her fingers as she danced in place, in a spangled miniskirt and white go-go boots, moving raptly to unheard music. It was twilight on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, 1966, when we reached Five Points in downtown Atlanta, and the time-and-temperature sign on the bank opposite the dancer said "6:12 p.m. 43 degrees." The neon sign that chased itself around the bottom of the dancer's cage said "Peach-a-Go-Go."

"Holy Mother of God, look at that," my father said, and slammed on the brakes of the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser that he loved only marginally less than my mother. Or rather, by that time, more.

I thought he meant the go-go dancer, and opened my mouth to make reassuring noises of shock and disapproval, but he was not looking up at her. He was looking at a straggling line of young Negro men and women walking up and down in front of what I thought must be a delicatessen. There was an enormous pickle, glowing poison neon green, over its door. It was raining softly, blending neon and auto-
mobile and streetlights into a magical, underwater smear. The walkers seemed to swim in the heavy air; they carried cardboard placards, ink running in the mist, that read "Freedom Now," and "We Shall Overcome." My heart gave a small fish-flop of recognition. Pickets. Real Civil Rights pickets. Perhaps, inside, a sit-in was in process. Here it was at last, after all the endless, airless years in the Irish Channel back in Savannah, drowned in the twin shadows of the sleepingCreole South and the Mother Church.

Here was Life.

Caught in traffic—a significant, intractable traffic jam, what a wonder—my father averted his eyes from the picketers as if they were naked, and, lifting them toward the alien heavens above him, saw the dancer in her cage. He jerked his foot off the clutch, and the Vista Cruiser stalled.

"Jesus, Joseph, and Mary," he squalled. "I'm turning around this minute and taking you home! Sodom and Gomorrah, this place is. You got no business in this place, darlin'; look at that hussy, her bare bottom hangin' out for all the world to see. Look at those spooks, wantin' to eat in a place that don't want them. And have we passed a single church in all this time? We have not, and likely the ones that are here are all Protestant. I told your mother, didn't I? Didn't I tell her? You come on back with me now, and go back to work for the insurance people, them that want you so bad. Didn't they say they'd let you run the company newspaper, if you'd stay?"

Behind us a horn blared, and then another.

"Pa, please," I said. "It's nothing to do with me. I don't think my office is anywhere near here. Hank said it's across from a museum. I don't see any museum around here; I bet this part of town is just for tourists. And Pa? I'll go to Mass every Sunday and Friday, too, if I have time. And after all, I'm staying in the Church home for girls. What on earth could happen to me at Our Lady?"

"We don't know anything about these Atlanta Catholics," my father said darkly, but he started the Oldsmobile and inched it forward, into the next block.

"Catholics are Catholics. You've seen one, you've seen us all," I said in relief. We were past the go-go dancer and the marching Negroes now.

"I heard some of them take that pill thing—"

"Of course they don't!" I said, honestly scandalized. "You're just talking now. You heard no such thing."

"Well, I wouldn't be surprised if I did hear it," he said, but my shock had reassured him. He looked at me out of the corner of one faded blue eye and winked, and I squeezed his arm. My father was in his late sixties then; I was the last child of six, spawn of his middle age, born after he had thought the five squat red sons who were his images would be his allotted issue, and he was a bitter caricature of the bandy-legged, brawling little man upon whose wide shoulders I had ridden when I was small. But his wink could still make me smile, still summon a shaving of the old adoration that his corrosive age and his endless anger had all but smothered. Most of the time now I no longer loved my father, but here, closed in this warm car with the jeweled dark of my new city all around me, I could remember how I had.

"There's nothing for you to worry about," I said. "Aren't I Liam O'Donnell's daughter, then?"

The convent school where I had spent twelve millennial years back in Savannah, Saint Zita's—named after the patron saint of servants and those who must cross bridges; apt for my contentious lower-class neighborhood—was big on epiphanies. It was a favored mode of deliverance among the nuns in my day, perhaps because no one stuck in Corkie could conceive of any other means of escape. I had a speaking acquaintance with every significant epiphany suffered by every child of the Church from Adam on. But I had never been personally seized by one. It seemed somehow d‚class‚, bumbling and rural; my best friend Meg Conlon and I used to snicker whenever Sister Mary Gregory trotted out another for our edification.

"Zap! Another epiph has epiphed!" we would whisper to each other.

I had one then.

I sat in the warm darkness of my father's automobile, for the moment totally without contact with the world outside and newly without context of any sort, and saw that indeed I was Liam O'Donnell's daughter, wholly that, just that. Maureen Aisling O'Donnell, known as Smoky, partly for the sooty smudges of my eyelashes and brows and my ash-brown hair; smoke amid the pure red flame on the heads of my brothers. Twenty-six years on earth and all of them within the fourteen city blocks near the Savannah wharves that was Corkie, for County Cork, whence most of us who lived there had our provenance. Daughter of Maureen, sister of John, James, Patrick, Sean, and Terry. But unquestionably, particle and cell and blood and tenet, daughter of Liam O'Donnell.

It stopped my breath and paralyzed me with terror, and in the stillness my father laughed and pummeled my thigh, pleased and mollified, and said, "You are and no mistaking. See you remember it."

Meet the Author

Anne Rivers Siddons's bestselling novels include Nora, Nora; Sweetwater Creek; Islands; and Fox's Earth. She is also the author of the nonfiction work John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. She and her husband divide their time between Charleston, South Carolina, and Brooklin, Maine.

Brief Biography

Charleston, South Carolina and a summer home in Maine overlooking Penobscot Bay
Date of Birth:
January 9, 1936
Place of Birth:
Atlanta, Georgia
B.A., Auburn University, 1958; Atlanta School of Art, 1958

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Downtown 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Liked the historical parts of this book, however, no real plot to the book, boring...have read many other books by Anne River Siddons and liked them, this is not one of her good books, however.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not my "cup of tea" but I am sure it is for some. Very sorry I read it now.
CPSinPhilly More than 1 year ago
I used to love this author, so when I saw a book of hers that I had not read, I was very excited. I was obviously disappointed. I didn't really like the main character, so the whole book was hard to read. If she had done more with the civil rights movement in the south at the time, instead of on her love life, it might have been saved.
Anna1AK More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book. The writing is excellent and a wonderful story. The characters truly come to life. You fells as though you know them. I was sorry to have it end.
anderlyn13 More than 1 year ago
Although this was not my most favorite book by this author, her in depth descriptions of the people and places of which she writes, made this book well worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not my typical genre but I found it hard to put down, it is one of those books where parts of the plot will stick in my mind forever. I would recommend this book.
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Mimi1942 More than 1 year ago
This is the second book I have read by Anne Rivers Siddons. I have not finished but am enjoying the read. I like her characters because they are every day people that we can relate to; actually, it could be me! I love finding a new author and will probably read all her books.
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jonesy7068 More than 1 year ago
This book was quite a bit more political than her other books. Maybe she was trying to make a point about journalists. I did however enjoy the take on Atlanta during the sixties. I recently visited GA,NC, and SC and have been reading books about this area ever since, but find all Siddons books very liberal.I tend to enjoy a book that tells a story but does not neccessarily take a side.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book. I could feel the air of Atlanta and smell the flowers.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The first Anne Rivers Siddons book I read, and still my favorite. I love the story - of Smoky, the 1960s, the characters. It's very much a life I would have wanted to have led at that time. And I loved the epilogue - never saw it coming, so don't peek!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my 2nd Anne Rivers Siddons book. I loved this book up until the very end. I didn't like the epilogue. BUT it was definitely worth reading. Very much a southern book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was hard to put down- it contained many laughs, cries, and everything else in between. All the characters are easy to relate to. It is particularly impressive that a book with 500 pages can contain only one or two slow moments. This novel made me a die-hard Anne Rivers Siddons fans.