A skillful storyteller...Siddons delivers king-sized conflict in hypnotic surroundings.
Siddons, as always, is a terrific storyteller who knows how to hook readers.
Ranks with the best of Siddons' novels.
Fans will find some familiar elements here: a sympathetic Southern heroine, an unlikely love interest, and a South Carolina low country setting fragrant with salt air. Caro Venable is a captivating mix of beauty queen, drunk, artist, dutiful corporate wife, and mother still grieving her daughter's drowning. Her love of Peacock's Island clashes with her developer husband's plans to subdivide her grandfather's land and turn its native tribal settlement into a "theme park." Caro is also tempted by a wild, rebellious Cuban botanist who shares her love for the unspoiled island. The novel ends with a circle of completeness: a corrupt husband returning to his decent self, a wife returning to her husband's love, an orphaned child filling the void left by a girl's death, and the island saved from development. Readers of Siddons's other books (Up Island, HarperCollins, 1997) will not be disappointed. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/98.] --Carol J. Bissett
Anne Rivers Siddons' novels are women's stories in the best sense, pulling you into the internal landscape of her characters' lives and holding you there.
Familiar ground for the prolific Siddons ( Up Island 1997), though her latest saga of the South replaces gothic melodrama with well-honed emotion. Narrated by Caro, independent-minded but burdened by sorrow after the death of her daughter, the story begins with this melancholy mother's retreat to 'the island.' Hugging the South Carolina coast, the small marsh isle is part of Caro's inheritance and heritage; staying in her grandfather's house, she goes to paint and ease her sadness.
Amid evocative description of the island's lowlands, the sound of wild ponies, and visions of untouched woods, the plot takes shape: Caro's husband Clay, a successful land developer, has put his sights on her island, a prime piece of real estate. Unbeknownst to Caro, her husband's empire is on the verge of financial ruin, and only a new housing development can save his existing ventureseverything they have built together in their long marriage. Moreover, the development of the island risks not only a natural habitat and Caro's solitude but also one of America's few intact Gullah communities, which Clay's company hopes to turn into a theme park. Having known the community her whole life, and appreciating the resilience and wisdom of ancient conjure woman Auntie Tuesday and other locals, Caro is ravaged by the idea of seeing them posing for tourist photographs. Gradually, Caro begins to wake from the resigned sleep she's been living in and fight for her landwhich also means fighting against her much loved husband and son's future. A delicate, compelling tale, full of real feeling and lush description. A treat for Siddons fans.
Read an Excerpt
I think I'll go over to the island for a few days," I said to my husbandat breakfast, and then, when he did not respond, I said, "The light'sbeautiful. It can't last. I hate to waste it. We won't get this pure goldagain until this time next year."
Clay smiled, but he did not put down his newspaper, and he did not speak.The smile made my stomach dip and rise again, as it has for the past twenty-fiveyears. Clay's smile is wonderful, slow and unstinting and a bit crooked,and gains much of its power from the surrounding austerity of his sharp,thin face. Over the years I have seen it disarm a legion of people, fromtwo-year-olds in mid-tantrum to Arab sheiks in same. Even though I knewthat this smile was little more than a twitch, and with no more perceptionbehind it, I felt my own mouth smiling back. I wondered, as I often do,how he could do that, smile as though you had absolutely delighted him whenhe had not heard a word you said.
"There is a rabid armadillo approaching you from behind," I said."It's so close I can see the froth. It's not a pretty sight."
"I heard you," he said. "You want to go over to the islandbecause the light's good. It can't last."
I waited, but he did not speak again, or raise his eyes.
Finally I said, "So? Is that okay with you?"
This time he did look up.
"Why do you ask? You don't need my permission to go over to the island.When did I ever stop you?"
His voice was level and reasonable; it is seldom anything else. I knew thathe did not like me to go over to the island alone, though, for a numberof reasons that we had discussed and one that we had not, yet.
The island is wild and largely undeveloped now, except for a tiny settlementonits southwestern tip, and there are wild animals living on it that arehostile to humans, and sometimes dangerous. It is home to a formidable colonyof alligators, some more than twelve feet long, and a handful of wild boarthat make up in ferocity what they lack in numbers. Rattlesnakes and watermoccasins are a given. Even the band of sullen wild ponies that have livedthere on the grassy hummocks between the creeks and inlets since time outof mind are not the amiable toys they seem. A small child from the settlementwas badly kicked only last year, when he got too close to a mare nursingher foal. Clay knows that I have been handling myself easily and well onthe island since I was a child, but he mistrusts what he calls my impetuositymore than he trusts my long experience and exemplary safety record.
Then there is the settlement itself, Dayclear. That beautiful word is Gullah,part of the strange and lyrical amalgam of West African and Colonial Englishonce spoken by the handful of Gullah blacks still living in pockets of theSouth Carolina Lowcountry. They are the descendants of the slaves broughthere by the first white settlers of these archipelagos and marshes, andsome of the elders still speak the old patois among themselves. When I wasa child I knew some of it myself, a few words taught me by various Gullahnurses and cooks, a few snatches of songs sung by gardeners and handymenon my grandfather's place. I know that Dayclear means "dawn."I have always loved the word, and I have always been aware of the settlement,even if I did not often visit it when I was growing up and have no occasionto do so now. I do know that it is made up now largely of the old, witha preponderance of frail old women, and that some of them must be the kinof those workers of my childhood, if not the actual people themselves. Iknow that there are virtually no young men and women living there, sincethe young leave the island as soon as they are physically able to do so,to seek whatever fortunes they might find elsewhere. There is nothing forthem in Dayclear. There are children, small ones, left behind with the oldwomen by daughters and granddaughters who have taken flight, and there aresometimes silent, empty-faced young men about, who have come home becausethey are in trouble and have, temporarily, nowhere else to go, but theydo not stay long.
I have not been to the settlement for many years, as my route across theisland lies in the dry, hummocky heart of it, and the house to which I gois at the opposite end, looking northwest toward the shore of Edisto. Butwhen I think of it, I feel nothing but a kind of mindless, nostalgic senseof safety and benevolence. Dayclear has never given me anything but nurturingand love.
Clay fears it, though. He has never said so, but I know that he does. Ican tell; I always know when Clay is afraid, because he so seldom is, andof almost nothing.
"There's nothing there that can hurt me; nobody who would," Ihave said to him. "They're just poor old women and babies and children."
"You don't know who's back in there," he said. "You don'tsee who comes and goes. Anybody could come across. There are places youcould wade across. Anybody could drop anchor in the Inland Waterway andcome ashore. You think everybody in that little place doesn't know whenyou're at the house, and that you're by yourself? I don't like it when yougo, Caro. But you know that."