Hill Towns

Hill Towns

3.3 9
by Anne Rivers Siddons

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This truly compelling novel is a magnificent kaleidoscope of the emotions that we most cherish — and fear. Showcasing the rare talent of Anne Rivers Siddons at her finest, Hill Towns probes deeply into the multiple meanings of love and relationships, as seen through the prism of one woman's life.

As a small child, a single event irrevocably


This truly compelling novel is a magnificent kaleidoscope of the emotions that we most cherish — and fear. Showcasing the rare talent of Anne Rivers Siddons at her finest, Hill Towns probes deeply into the multiple meanings of love and relationships, as seen through the prism of one woman's life.

As a small child, a single event irrevocably changed the life of Catherine Gaillard — and rendered her unable to leave her cloistered mountaintop town in Tennessee for the next 30 years. Her devotion to her husband, Joe, and her desire to forever put this incident behind her propel Cat on a life-changing voyage to Italy.

Making their way across the Tuscany countryside in the company of newly married friends and an exuberant painter and his enigmatic wife, Cat and Joe feel the fabric that holds their marriage together — so carefully woven together at home — begin to unravel. The once-carefree trip turns into a journey to the very heart of their relationship... and the ultimate test of their love.

Author Biography:

Anne River Siddons was born in 1936 in Fairburn, Georgia, a small railroad town just south of Atlanta, where her family has lived for six generations. The only child of a prestigious Atlanta lawyer and his wife, Siddons was raised to be a perfect Southern belle. Growing up, she did what was expected of her: getting straight A's, becoming head cheerleader, the homecoming queen, and then Centennial Queen of Fairburn. At Auburn University she studied illustration, joined the Tri-Delt sorority, and "did the things I thought I should. I dated the right guys. I did the right activities," and wound up voted "Loveliest of thePlains."

During her student years at Auburn, the Civil Rights Movement first gained national attention, with the bus boycott in Montgomery and the integration of the University of Alabama. Siddons was a columnist for the Auburn Plainsman at the time, and she wrote, "an innocuous, almost sophomoric column" welcoming integration. The school's administration requested she pull it, and when she refused, they ran it with a disclaimer stating that the university did not share her views. Because she was writing from the deep South, her column gained instant national attention and caused quite "a fracas." When she wrote a second, similarly-minded piece, she was fired. It was her first taste of the power of the written word.

After graduation, she worked in the advertising department of a large bank, doing layout and design. But she soon discovered her real talents lay in writing, as she was frequently required to write copy for the advertisements. "At Auburn, and before that when I wrote local columns for the Fairburn paper, writing came so naturally that I didn't value it. I never even thought that it might be a livelihood, or a source of great satisfaction. Southern girls, remember, were taught to look for security."

She soon left the bank to join the staff of the recently founded Atlanta magazine. Started by renowned mentor, Jim Townsend, the Atlanta came to life in the 1960's, just as the city Atlanta was experiencing a rebirth. As one of the magazine's first senior editors, Siddons remembers the job as being, "one of the most electrifying things I have ever done in terms of sheer joy." Her work at the magazine brought her in direct contact with the Civil Rights Movement, often sitting with Dr. King's people at the then-black restaurant Carrousel, listening to the best jazz the city had to offer. At age 30, she married Heyward Siddons, eleven years her senior, and the father of four sons from a previous marriage.

Her writing career took its next leap when Larry Ashmead, then an editor at Doubleday, noticed an article of hers and wrote to her asking if she would consider doing a book. She assumed the letter was a prank, and that some of her friends had stolen Doubleday stationary. When she didn't respond, Ashmead tracked her down, and Siddons ended up with a two book contract: a collection of essays which became John Chancellor Makes Me Cry, and a novel of her college days, which became Heartbreak Hotel, and was later turned into a film, Heart of Dixie, starring Ally Sheedy.

As Ashmead moved on, from Doubleday to Simon & Shuster, then to Harper & Row, Siddons followed, writing a horror story, The House Next Door, which Stephen King described as a prime example of "the new American Gothic," and then Fox's Earth and Homeplace, about the loss of a beloved home.

It was in 1988, with the publication of her fifth book, the best-selling Peachtree Road, that Siddons graduated to real commercial success. Described by her friend and peer, Pat Conroy, as "the Southern novel for our generation." With almost a million copies in print, Peachtree Road ushered Siddons onto the literary fast track. Since then the novels have been coming steadily, about one each year, with her readership and writer's fees increasing commensurately. In 1992 she received $3.25 million from HarperCollins for a three book deal, and then, in 1994, HarperCollins gave Siddons $13 million for a four book deal.

Now, she and her Heyward shuttle between a sprawling home in Brookhaven, Atlanta, and their summer home in Brooklin, Maine. She finds Down East, "such a relief after the old dark morass of the South. It's like getting a gulp of clean air...I always feel in Maine like I'm walking on the surface of the earth. In the South, I always feel like I'm knee-deep." But she still remains tied to her home in the South, where she does most of her writing. Each morning, Siddons dresses, puts on her makeup and then heads out to the backyard cottage that serves as her office. And each night, she and her husband edit the day's work by reading it aloud over evening cocktails.

Siddons' success has naturally brought comparisons with another great Southern writer, Margaret Mitchell, but Siddons insists that the South she writes about is not the romanticized version found in Gone With the Wind. Instead, her relationship with the South 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."

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Siddons' last big commercial outing (Colony, 1992) was built along a New England-Southern axis. This time, she creates a passel of characters her fans will find reassuringly familiar, and then sends them far out of their ken—to Italy. Catherine Compton—a true Siddons woman in that she can whine engagingly—is from a tiny college town in Tennessee and has a macabre background: her mom and dad died while making love on a bridge. As a result, Cat grows up agoraphobic, refusing to leave the safe, idyllic little world of Trinity College, where her handsome Yankee husband, Joe Gaillard, teaches English. But when Joe's prot‚g‚, Colin Gerard, plans to get married in Italy, Cat faces her fears, books a flight, and—under the light of an Italian sun—finds everything different. Above all, Joe has a midlife crisis, sparked by the loss of his luggage and fanned by Ada Forrest, the wife of famous painter whom the Gaillards meet in Rome. Meanwhile, Sam Forrest takes a shine to Cat; her "snub, narrow Renaissance look" inspires him artistically, not to mention romantically. The two couples join the newlyweds on a honeymoon stomp across the boot, slurping bellinis at Florian's in Venice, marveling over Michelangelo's David in Florence, and finally holing up at a villa outside Siena. There, Sam reveals the portrait of Cat he's been working on, which portrays her as St. Theresa—though in sexual, not religious ecstasy. Joe is not amused, but the Gaillards will work things out before they head back to Tennessee, with their horizons expanded. Siddons's theme is the moral and psychological ambiguity that arises from American contact with the European other. Henry James did itbetter—with a whole lot more subtlety—but, still, Siddons's tried-and-true fans will be pleased. (First printing of 200,000; Literary Guild Dual Selection for September)

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Chapter One

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.

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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Hill Towns 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
Ms. Siddons is a gifted writer, and I was excited to find one of her books, that I hadn't yet read. It's too bad she felt it necessary to pepper crude language throughout the book. As with other reviewers, I found this distracting, and it took away from the enjoyment of the book. In the end, my high hopes were dashed. I can only give this two stars, that being for her ablities and the hard work i'm sure she put into the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think Anne Siddons writes with great sophistication and has a wonderful way with vocabulary. Her descriptive material is absoltely beautiful. She chooses areas of the country; The deep South, the popular vacation seaside of the North in Maine, the poor mountains of Virginia, etc., and introduces you to the specific groups of people that will carry the story line through the book. You get insight into a culture that you might not otherwise have had an opportunity to get to know. I enjoyed this book especially in my personal ability to relive the travels thru Italy. Again, I mostly enjoyed the wonderful descriptions of the cities, the countryside, the museums, her impressions of the culture, food and art, as visitor to all the places I was familiar with. It brought back wonder memories. I read her COLONY and found the same use of language that I very much enjoyed. I also enjoyed meeting this cast as it was so different from the group in Hill Town. I find her books a relaxing and fun read. I have just started Fox's Earth. This book seems a little bit heavier. But again, the language is wonderfully flowing.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I am about 3/4 of the way through this book and have greatly enjoyed it. It is one of Ms Siddons best yet. Hill Towns has been the only one so far that has been out of print so had to order through Barnes&Noble 'used' section. Her writing makes you feel like you are in Italy with the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only was this book a realistic story of how personal growth can upset a relationship's applecart, it made me want to go to Italy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a book that tried way too hard to shock people. In fact, the author took so many cheap shots that it was kind of pathetic. The main character, Catherine, is afraid of bridges because her parents used to put her in the back seat of their car and have sex on bridges. Wow, am I supposed to be shocked? Her shrink is a lesbian. Am I supposed to be shocked again? I came away just feeling rather cheated.