Hill Townsby Anne Rivers Siddons
Something terrible happened to Catherine Gaillard when she was a small child - something so traumatic that for thirty years she couldn't bring herself to leave Montview, the cloistered mountaintop college town in Tennessee where she grew up. But she has not missed the "real" world. Cat's life on the mountain has been wonderful. She adores her husband, who buttresses… See more details below
Something terrible happened to Catherine Gaillard when she was a small child - something so traumatic that for thirty years she couldn't bring herself to leave Montview, the cloistered mountaintop college town in Tennessee where she grew up. But she has not missed the "real" world. Cat's life on the mountain has been wonderful. She adores her husband, who buttresses her against the world outside; she cherishes her country garden and her friends from the college. Montview has served her well. Now, for the first time, she and Joe have ventured out of their haven into the careening panorama of Italy to attend the Roman wedding of their Montview friends Colin and Maria. From Rome they will travel to Venice and on through the hill towns of Tuscany, where, Cat feels, she will be up high and safe again. But at first none of Italy seems safe to her. It is frantic and hot; its people seem totally alien, its raw sensuality terrifying. Gradually, however, Cat becomes enthralled by Italy's hectic beauty and vitality. She is seduced by everything: art and architecture, food and wine, the sheer living weight of its history. She burns to share it all with Joe, but as her old fear heals and she grows stronger, he seems to turn away from her. It is almost as if Italy diminishes Joe. The only person Cat feels real connection with is Sam Forrest, a celebrated and charismatic American painter who joins the four Southerners on the trip through the hill towns of Tuscany. As she has done in the past to great acclaim, Anne Rivers Siddons probes deeply into the multiple meanings of love and relationships refracted through the prism of a woman's eyes. Endowed with a marvelous Italian setting and rich, compelling characters, Hill Towns is a rare novel of depth and deliverance. It is the work of a gifted writer at the height of her storytelling powers.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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When I Was Five Years Old I Made A Coldly Desperate decision to live forever in a town on a hill, and so I have, from that terrible night in June until this one, thirty-seven years and one month later. If it has been bad for me, as many people these days seem to be telling me, I can only consider that anything else at all would have been worse.
"They never saw it coming; they didn't know what hit them," everybody said after my parents were struck and killed by a speeding truck on the old chain bridge over Tolliver's Creek. After that, I knew as simply and unalterably as a child knows anything that staying alive meant always being able to see what was coming. Always knowing what might hit you. So when my father's parents, kind and substantial Virginians from the Tidewater who might have given me every advantage, made to take me home with them after the funeral, I simply screamed and screamed until, in despair, they left me behind with my mother's eccentric people, who lived on the top of the mountain where my parents had died. I had great affection for my Virginia grandparents and little for the erratic, reclusive Cashes, who were strange even in that hill country, where strangeness is king, but the ramshackle, overgrown Cash house commanded the Blue Ridge foothills in all directions. From there I would always know what was coming. From there I would see it long before it saw me.
I could not have explained this at age five, of course; I have only recently become fully aware of it. Then, I only knew that on the mountain I was safe and off it I was not. Everything in my small being strained after mygrandmother and grandfather Compton as they drove away from the sly, sunless home of my Cash grandparents in their sedate old Chrysler that sunny afternoon; I felt as if sunlight and laughter and gentleness and childhood itself were rolling away with them. But the new flatland fear was stronger. When I turned my face into the sagging lap of my grandmother Cash, she thought I wept in sorrow for my parents and said for the first of a thousand times, "That's all right. You done right. You stay here with your own kind. Your mama wouldn't be lyin' there in her grave if she'd of stayed with her own kind."
But I'm not your kind, I remember thinking as clearly as spring water. I don't need you. It's your house I need. It's this mountain.
It was, I realize, an extraordinary insight for a small child. And it did not surface again for more than thirty years. Still, the power of it served. It held me on the Mountain through everything that came afterward, all those years that seem in retrospect to have been lived in a kind of green darkness, until I met Joe Gaillard in my senior year at Trinity College and the last lingering darkness took fire into light.
When I told him about my parents' death and I remember it was long after I met him, only days before he proposed to me he cried. I stared at him doubtfully; no one had ever cried upon hearing the manner of their deaths, and some few laughed outright, nervous, swiftly stifled laughter. Even I had not cried after that first obliterating grief. I was not too young to perceive that they had somehow simply died of ludicrousness. I learned early to parrot laughter along with the children at Montview Day School, where my Compton grandparents' absentee largesse sent me, when they taunted me with it: "Cat's mama and daddy fucked themselves to death!" "Hey, Cat! Wanna go out and hump on the bridge?"
Later, when I began to perceive the dim shape of their meaning, I stopped laughing and began fighting. By the time I was ten, I was on the brink of being expelled for aggression. Time and Cora Pierce's influence put a stop to that, but I still hear the laughter sometimes, in the long nights on the Mountain.
"I'm lucky you weren't a serial murderer or a Republican," I told Joe later. "I'd have married you anyway. It's pretty obvious I would have married the first man who didn't wince and grin a shit-faced grin and say, 'Well, at least they died happy.'"
"I wasn't crying for them; they probably did die happy, at that," he said. "I was crying for you. Nobody should laugh at a child's grief. Nobody. Ever."
"Well, it wasn't at my grief, exactly," I said. "It's just you can see why it's funny, in an awful sort of way, can't you? I mean, there they were out on that bridge, just going to town, and here comes this chicken truck "
"Nobody," Joe said fiercely. "Never. Not under any circumstance. Jesus Christ, when I think what that laughter must have taught you about the world "
"It taught me never to screw on bridges," I said, and he did laugh then, the exuberant, froggy laugh that always made people's lips tug up involuntarily at the corners. I knew he was laughing largely because I wanted him to. Joe was a lovely man then, in the supple greenness of his twenties.
My father was a tall fair boy who came to Trinity College because his father and grandfather had come before him; and before them his great-grandfather Cornelius Compton, an Episcopal bishop of modest fame in the South, had helped to found the university. There had been Comptons at Trinity since the beginning.
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