Downtown [NOOK Book]


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...

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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 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.

Smoky O'Donnel arrives in Atlanta in 1966 to work as a writer with Atlanta's Downtown magazine. From the remarkable men who change her life to the great social movements sweeping the nation, Smoky's world creates a powerful story of the end of innocence. From the bestselling author of Colony and Hill Towns.

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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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061743474
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 59,995
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Anne Rivers Siddons

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.


Born in 1936 in a small town near Atlanta, Anne Rivers Siddons was raised to be a dutiful daughter of the South -- popular, well-mannered, studious, and observant of all the cultural mores of time and place. She attended Alabama's Auburn University in the mid-1950s, just as the Civil Rights Movement was gathering steam. Siddons worked on the staff of Auburn's student newspaper and wrote an editorial in favor of integration. When the administration asked her to pull the piece, she refused. The column ran with an official disclaimer from the university, attracting national attention and giving young Siddons her first taste of the power of the written word.

After a brief stint in the advertising department of a bank, Siddons took a position with the up and coming regional magazine Atlanta, where she worked her way up to senior editor. Impressed by her writing ability, an editor at Doubleday offered her a two-book contract. She debuted in 1975 with a collection of nonfiction essays; the following year, she published Heartbreak Hotel, a semi-autobiographical novel about a privileged Southern coed who comes of age during the summer of 1956.

With the notable exception of 1978's The House Next Door, a chilling contemporary gothic compared by Stephen King to Shirley Jackson's classic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, Siddons has produced a string of well-written, imaginative, and emotionally resonant stories of love and loss -- all firmly rooted in the culture of the modern South. Her books are consistent bestsellers, with 1988's Peachtree Road (1988) arguably her biggest commercial success. Described by her friend and peer, Pat Conroy, as "the Southern novel for our generation," the book sheds illuminating light on the changing landscape of mid-20th-century Atlanta society.

Although her status as a "regional" writer accounts partially for Siddons' appeal, ultimately fans love her books because they portray with compassion and truth the real lives of women who transcend the difficulties of love and marriage, family, friendship, and growing up.

Good To Know

Although she is often compared with another Atlanta author, Margaret Mitchel, Siddons insists that the South she writes about is not the romanticized version found in Gone With the Wind. Instead, her relationship with the region is loving, but realistic. "It's like an old marriage or a long marriage. The commitment is absolute, but the romance has long since worn off...I want to write about it as it really is: I don't want to romanticize it."

Siddons' debut novel Heartberak Hotel was turned into the 1989 movie Heart of Dixie, starry Ally Sheedy, Virginia Madsen, and Phoebe Cates.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sybil Anne Rivers Siddons (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      Charleston, South Carolina and a summer home in Maine overlooking Penobscot Bay
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 9, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Atlanta, Georgia
    1. Education:
      B.A., Auburn University, 1958; Atlanta School of Art, 1958

Read an Excerpt

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."

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
When Smoky O'Donnell, a small-town girl with big-city ambitions, arrives in Atlanta in the spring of 1966, both she and the city find themselves on the brink of cataclysmic and irrevocable change. Invited to be a new writer for the burgeoning Downtown magazine by its eccentric and revolutionary editor, Matt Comfort, Smoky finds herself thrown into a social and political whirlwind that is a world apart from her conservative, sheltered family in Savannah. Embracing the city, and the nascent Civil Rights Movement that is enveloping it, Smoky rises from caption writer to fearless chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement as it sweeps through Atlanta, forever transforming first the once sleepy city, and then the nation. In this tumultuous time of conflicting passions, Smoky also finds herself torn between three young men: Brad Hunt, the wealthy young scion of "old Atlanta," who loves Smoky but fears her passion for her career; Luke Geary, a rakish photojournalist who becomes her sparring partner both at the magazine and in bed; and John Howard, the young civil rights activist who works as a right-hand man to Martin Luther King Jr. Set amidst the swirling melee of the late '60's, Downtown celebrates and illuminates the extraordinary journey of Smoky O'Donnell from a sheltered girl to an irrepressible woman, writer, activist, and lover.1. Trace Smoky's involvement in Atlanta's Civil Rights Movement. How do her developing politics affect her life choices? Do Smoky's newfound beliefs require her to make sacrifices? How do they liberate her?

2. How does Smoky navigate her career in the primarily male-dominated world of Downtown? How does she go about gaining therespect of her male boss and peers? When is her womanhood and sexuality an asset? A hindrance? What links can you draw between the Civil Rights Movement and the feminist movement?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Not great

    Not my "cup of tea" but I am sure it is for some. Very sorry I read it now.

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  • Posted September 22, 2012

    I guess I have out grown Anne Rivers Siddons

    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.

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  • Posted April 29, 2012

    Highly recommend

    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.

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  • Posted March 16, 2012

    Recommended reading. Siddons is a prolific and intelligent author.

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2011

    Great Read

    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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  • Posted September 14, 2011

    A great writer!

    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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  • Posted June 20, 2011


    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

    Posted January 2, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    Wonderful book. I could feel the air of Atlanta and smell the flowers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2005

    Still my favorite

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2005

    Deanna, an avid reader

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2000

    This is Rivers Siddons at Her Best

    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.

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    Posted May 9, 2011

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    Posted November 29, 2009

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