Fault Lines

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Overview

Merritt Fowler is a natural caretaker. Most of her life she has cared for her beautiful, erratic younger sister, Laura; her self-sacrificing physician husband, Pom; and her lovely, fragile sixteen-year-old daughter, Glynn. Now, in this strange summer of unnaturally warm weather and growing pressures, she is caring too for her husband's destructive, controlling mother, who is ill with advanced Alzheimer's disease. Exhausted and confused, Merritt no longer knows quite who she is or what is important to her. She ...
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Fault Lines

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Overview

Merritt Fowler is a natural caretaker. Most of her life she has cared for her beautiful, erratic younger sister, Laura; her self-sacrificing physician husband, Pom; and her lovely, fragile sixteen-year-old daughter, Glynn. Now, in this strange summer of unnaturally warm weather and growing pressures, she is caring too for her husband's destructive, controlling mother, who is ill with advanced Alzheimer's disease. Exhausted and confused, Merritt no longer knows quite who she is or what is important to her. She only knows that something deep inside is about to crack. A fierce family quarrel sends Glynn running west from Atlanta to seek sanctuary with her aunt Laura, a fine actress whose promising Hollywood career is in decline. Merritt goes after her daughter - against Pom's wishes and in the face of his anger - and she impulsively decides to stay in California to see if the widening fissures between mother, sister, and daughter can be healed. After a head-on collision with Laura's shallow, seductive Hollywood world and her betraying film director lover, the three women end up in Laura's red Mustang convertible, barreling up the wild coast from the Palm Springs Desert to the Santa Cruz Mountains outside San Francisco - earthquake country. In a borrowed lodge among the great redwoods, they finally stop to confront one another and their own demons.

Deeply moving and masterfully imagined, Siddons presents readers with a novel that gets to the heart of the confusing power of love and family in Fault Lines. Merritt Fowler is a natural caregiver, but after years of giving, she no longer knows who she is or what is important to her. Setting out on a wild adventure to the Santa Cruz mountains, Merritt searches for the bedrock of strength and courage that can save her.

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Editorial Reviews

Joanne Wilkinson
Like Robert Waller's "Bridges of Madison County" (1992) and Anne Tyler's "Ladder of Years" , Siddons' new novel tells of a self-sacrificing housewife who is tempted to walk away from her old life. It's apparent from the get go, though, that Siddons is working more along the lines of Waller's melodrama than Tyler's wry sendup. Merritt Fowler is exhausted from caring for her elderly mother-in-law, who's suffering from Alzheimer's disease. When a nasty argument compels her fragile 16-year-old daughter, Glynn, to seek refuge with Merritt's glamorous sister in California, Merritt follows, leaving her workaholic husband behind. The three women soon decide to take a trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains for a little R and R. In a remote lodge in the redwoods, Merritt meets and falls for an amateur seismologist, and Glynn is wooed by a Warren Beattylike director. Then an earthquake hits, and as the three women make the long, arduous trek to safety, they reevaluate their lives and goals. There's enough Sturm und Drang in this one to register 8.0 on the Richter scale, and Siddons pumps up every scene with overly lush prose and strangled dialogue: "`Whenever you see redwoods in "National Geographic", or fog, or watch Shamu on TV, you'll be seeing me.'" (Did he say Shamu?) With a red-hot theme, Hollywood glam, a natural disaster, anorexia--everything, in fact, but the kitchen sink--Siddons can't miss. Read it and weep.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061093340
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/1996
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.92 (d)

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.

Biography

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

On the day of my husband's annual fund-raising gala, I was down by the river liberating rats.

There were two of them on this day, massive, stolid, blunt-snouted beasts who bore no more resemblance to common house mice than beavers, or the nutria from the bayous of my childhood. Rattus rattus they were, or, more familiarly, European black rats. I looked them up in Webster's Unabridged when Pom first designated me their official executioner. I figured that if you're going to drown something, the least you can do is know its proper name. That was a fatal mistake. Name something, the old folk saying goes, and you have made it your own. Rattus rattus became mine the instant I closed Webster's, and after that I simply took the victims caught in Pom's traps down to the river and, instead of drowning them, let them go. Who, after all, would know? Only the dogs went with me, and, being bird dogs, they were uninterested in anything without wings. The leaden-footed, trundling rats were as far from the winged denizens of God's bestiary as it was possible to be. My hideous charges waddled to freedom unmolested.

There were two and three of them a day in those first steaming days of June. Pom was delighted with the humane traps. The poison put down by the exterminating company had worked even better, but the rats had all died in the walls and for almost a month before we tried the traps the house smelled like a charnel house, sick-sweet and pestilential. We'd had to cancel several meetings and a dinner party. The exterminators had promised that the rats would all go outside to die, but none of them had, and Pom was furious with both man and beast.

"Why the hellaren't they going outside?" he said over and over.

"Would you, if you could die in a nice warm pile of insulation?" I said. "Why on earth did either of us believe they'd go outside? Why would they? They probably start to feel the pain almost immediately. They're not going to run a 10K with arsenic in their guts."

I hated the poisoning. I hated the thought of the writhing and the squeaking and scrabbling and dying. I never actually heard it, but somehow that was even worse. My mind fashioned grand guignol dances of death nightly behind my Sheetrock. I took to leaving the radio on softly all night, in fear that I would hear. The only result of that was that I would come awake at dawn with my heart jolting when the morning deejay started his drive-time assault and would lie there blearily for long seconds, wondering if it had been the phone I heard, or Pom's beeper, or Glynn calling, or some new banshee alarm from Mommee upstairs. Only when I had listened for a couple of minutes did it sink in that I was hearing Fred the Undead blasting Atlanta out of bed and onto the road.

As early as I wakened on those mornings, Pom was invariably up earlier and was almost always gone to the clinic by the time I padded into the kitchen in search of coffee. I would find his usual note propped up against the big white Braun coffeemaker: "Merritt: 3 more, 2 in lv. rm. and 1 in libr. Call A. about Fri, I think there's something. Blue blazer in cleaners? Worm capsules, 2 @. Mommee restless last night, check and call me. Home late, big bucks in town. See you A.M. if not P.M. XXX, P."

Translated, this meant there were three new captives in the rat traps, and I was to dispatch them in the river. Then I was to call his secretary, Amy Crittenden, who loved him with the fierce, chaste passion of the middle-aged office wife, and see what our plans were for Friday evening; Pom frequently made social arrangements for us and forgot to tell me, so Amy became a willing go-between. I liked and valued her and seldom chafed at her fussy peremptoriness, though I was not above a moment's satisfaction when I was able to say, "Oh, Amy, he's forgotten we have plans for Friday. You really need to check with me first." Then I was to locate his blue blazer and fetch it from the cleaners if it was there, which meant that the Friday mystery evening was casual and funky, like a rib dinner down in the Southwest part of the city, to show the flag in the affluent black community there. Much of Pom's clinic's work was done in and for the black communities south of downtown, and he endured the socializing as coin that paid for the free clinical work that was his passion. Pom was as impatient with the River Club as he was with the rib dinner, but knew better than anyone the necessity for both. In the twenty years that the network of Fowler clinics had been in operation, he had become a consummate fund-raiser. He was an eloquent speaker, a tireless listener to fragile egos, and without vanity himself, a rare thing indeed in a physician. The day his board of directors and auxiliary discovered this was the day that he began to move, imperceptibly at first, out of the office and onto the hustings. Because he was unwilling to surrender even a moment of what he considered his real work, diagnosing and healing the poor, he solved the conflict by simply getting up earlier and earlier to get to the clinic and coming home later and later. Now, two decades later, I virtually never saw him by morning light and often not by lamplight, either. Of course he didn't have time to get his blue blazer out of the cleaners; of course I would do it for him. It was in our contract, his and ours. He would care for the poor and the sick; I would care for him and our family. If this grew tedious at times, I had only to remind myself that Pom and I were in a partnership beyond moral reproach. Caretaking, any sort of caretaking, was my hot button. The smallest allegation of moral slipshoddiness was my Achilles' heel.

Next, the note bade me give the two bird dogs who lived in the run down by the river their worm capsules, two each. Samson and Delilah were liver-spotted setters, rangy and lean and sleek, seeming always to vibrate with nerves and energy and readiness. Pom had grown up bird hunting with his father, the Judge, on a vast South Georgia timber plantation, and he thought to take the sport up again when we bought the house on the river five years before, so he kept a brace of hounds in the river run at all times. But he had yet to get back out into the autumn fields with them, even though he belonged to an exclusive hunting club over in South Carolina, on the Big Pee Dee River. He did not spend much time with the dogs, and did not want me to make pets of them. It spoiled them for hunting, he said, and it wasn't as if they were neglected or abused. Their quarters were weatherproof and sumptuous, their runs enormous, and he ran them for a couple of hours on weekends, or had me do it, if he couldn't. Besides, they were littermates, brother and sister, and they had each other for company. I will take them the pills in late afternoon when I decant the rats, I would think. Then I can spend some time with them and no one will be the wiser.

It had not yet struck me, at the beginning of that summer, how much of my time was spent doing things about which no one was the wiser.

Mommee restless: Nothing ambiguous about that. Glynnis Parsons Fowler spent her entire married life in her big house on the edge of the great plantation and ruled her husband, sons, and household help with an iron hand in the lace mitt of a perennial wiregrass debutante. As far as I know she was never called Glynnis in her life; her adoring Papa called her Punkin, her sons called her Mommee, and her husband Little Bit, but despite the cloying nicknames and her diminutive stature, she was a formidable presence always. Even now, ten years widowed and five years into Alzheimer's, two of them spent under our roof, she ruled, only now with mania instead of will and wiles. A restless night meant muttering and shuffling around her room at all hours, which Pom, no matter how weary, never failed to hear and I, no matter how well rested, seldom did. The note meant that he had had to get up and calm her again, and I whose task this was, had not . . . again. I knew that Pom had no thought of shaming me about this. The shame I felt was born entirely within me. I should have heard her. I will spend the morning with her, I would think, and Ina can go for the groceries and dry cleaning.

Finally, the note told me that someone with the potential for major financial support for the clinic was in town, and Pom was wining and dining him, and might be taking him somewhere afterwards for a nightcap. Many of the clinic's benefactors were from the smaller cities across the South, and liked to see what they thought of as the bright lights of the big city when they came to Atlanta. Not infrequently, that meant one of the glossier nude dancing clubs over on Cheshire Bridge Road. The first time Pom had come in very late from one of those evenings I whooped with helpless laughter.

"Oh, God, I can just see you with huge silicone boobs on each side of your face, hanging over your ears," I choked. "Even better, I can see you with huge silicone boobs over your ears and half an inch of five o'clock shadow, glaring out from the front page of the Atlanta Constitution. 'Prominent physician caught in raid on unlicensed nude dancing club.' What would Amy say?"

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
Merritt Fowler is a natural caretaker. Ever since her mother died when Merritt was three, she's been taking care of her the people in her life. First it was her grieving father and her headstrong younger sister, Laura, then her husband Pom, her destructive and malevolent mother-in-law, Mommee, and her anorexic young daughter, Glynn. With so much caretaking going on, Merritt has little time left over for herself and her own needs. Exhausted and confused, she no longer knows who she is, or what is important to her. But she knows the situation in her household has come to a crisis. In the throes of Alzheimer's, Mommee's behavior has become downright dangerous, and Pom's insistence that she be cared for at home has driven a wedge between Glynn and her parents. When the crisis reaches a boiling point, and Glynn runs away from her Atlanta home to stay with her Aunt Laura, now an actress in Hollywood, Merritt feels compelled to follow. Glynn is awed by Laura's seemingly glamorous Hollywood connections and Merritt feels her control over her daughter slipping even further away. On impulse, the three women take off in Laura's Mustang convertible up the coast to a remote hideaway in the Santa Cruz mountains outside San Francisco, earthquake country. There, in the protective shade of the great redwoods, Merritt, Glynn and Laura struggle to see if the widening fissures between mother, daughter and sister can be healed. When the strange, hermit-like caretaker of their hideaway, T.C. Bridgewater, begins to introduce Merritt to the beauty and power of earthquakes, she feels her old identity slipping away, and a whole new Merritt emerging. With the ground shifting beneath herfeet, literally and metaphorically, Merritt must redefine herself and her relationships with all the people she loves, before it's too late.Topics for Discussion
1. Merritt talks of a "woman she left behind in Atlanta" and a new woman who has emerged in the redwoods. Is one more "the real" Merritt than the other? Were they both always present within her? What was it about the Santa Cruz mountains that enabled the second Merritt to appear? How do you think she might reconcile the two of them?

2. Why do you think Siddons chose to set her novel in earthquake country? Are earthquakes an apt metaphor for Merritt's situation? How so? What is destroyed in the earthquake Merritt, Laura and Gynn experience? What does each woman lose? What does each gain?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2003

    Great audio book

    I enjoyed fault lines alot , I t keeps in suspense . The character in the book are fantastic I used it in my alzhiemers class as a report everything Mrs Fowler went through are classic characteristics of Alzhiemer Disease I think you will enjoy fault lines I am looking forward to reading more books by Mrs Siddon

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    Okay

    This book started out fine but got slow and then, I felt, it rushed the ending. The storyline was okay but have seen it in so many other books. I felt it was an okay book but donated it to our local library-won't read it again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2012

    Amanda

    Yawns

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2012

    Jake

    Walks to res. 25

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2012

    Saph

    Idk what you mean

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2012

    Mace

    (Ikr. Gtgtb. See ya guyz!)

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2012

    Haley

    Bleh

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2012

    Miles

    *jake is perverted*

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 2, 2009

    FAULT LINES - EARTHQUAKE MATERIAL

    FAULT LINES is typically SIddons's fare. From the "get go" the book captures the attention of the reader. From chapter to chapter suspense builds with the characters involved until the final chapter where there is a surprise ending, whereby the supposed love of the main character is killed in an earthquake. The main character then returns home and the reader wonders what the outcome will be with her husband. He is worn from looking for her and when he sees her, he breaks down, crying. She rushes into his arms.
    There are many twists and turns and emotional ups and down throughout the story. This is a must read for Siddons readers.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted July 24, 2011

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    Posted November 27, 2011

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