Low Country

( 11 )

Overview

Caroline Venable has everything her Southern heritage promised: money, prestige, a powerful husband—and a predictable routine of country-club luncheons, cocktail parties, and dinners hosting her husband's wealthy friends, clients, and associates in his successful land-developing conglomerate.

To escape her stifling routine, Caro drinks a little too much. But her true solace is the Lowcountry island her beloved Granddaddy left her—an oasis of breathtaking beauty that is home to a...

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Low Country

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Overview

Caroline Venable has everything her Southern heritage promised: money, prestige, a powerful husband—and a predictable routine of country-club luncheons, cocktail parties, and dinners hosting her husband's wealthy friends, clients, and associates in his successful land-developing conglomerate.

To escape her stifling routine, Caro drinks a little too much. But her true solace is the Lowcountry island her beloved Granddaddy left her—an oasis of breathtaking beauty that is home to a band of wild ponies. When Caro learns that her husband must develop the island or lose the business, she is devastated. The Lowcountry is her heritage—and what will happen to the ponies whose spirit and freedom have captivated her since childhood?

Saving the island could cost Caroline more than she ever imagined. To succeed, she must confront the part of herself numbed by alcohol and careful avoidance—and shatter long-held ideals about her role in society, her marriage, and ultimately, herself.

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Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A skillful storyteller...Siddons delivers king-sized conflict in hypnotic surroundings.
Virginian Pilot
Siddons, as always, is a terrific storyteller who knows how to hook readers.
Chicago Tribune
Ranks with the best of Siddons' novels.
Library Journal
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
Boston Globe
Lush, lyrical.
People Magazine
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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 ventures—everything 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 land—which 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061093326
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 256,340
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.20 (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


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."
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Reading Group Guide

"We need myths more than food or water. They give shape and put us in touch with the world. We don't have enough heroes or myths in this century . . ."
Plot Summary
Caroline Venable has everything her Southern heritage promised: money, prestige, a rich husband, and a predictable routine of country-club luncheons and cocktail parties. Caroline is the chatelaine of a magnificent home, hostess to her husband's wealthy friends and prospective clients, and the official "one woman welcome wagon" for the young, eager talent that her husband, Clay, imports to their corner of South Carolina to work for the family company, a vastly-successful land-development conglomerate, Peacock Island Plantation. But ever since her ten-year-old daughter, Kylie, drowned in the nearby ocean, Caro hasn't been able to fully cope with her hostess role, and she hasn't been able to stop drinking. Instead, she has been taking refuge on "the island," the wild and undeveloped part of Peacock Island, in the house she grew up in. As Clay's booming business takes him away from home more frequently, Caro finds herself alone in her grandfather's old lodge, immersed in the spectacular beauty of the unspoiled flora and fauna. Roaming the island are a band of wild ponies whose freedom and spirit captivated both Caroline and, during her lifetime, the young Kylie. Across the island is Dayclear, a community of Gullahs, direct descendants of the West African slaves, who still retain much of their ancient culture and way of life. But that way of life is about to be shattered. The Gullahs learn from a visiting botanist, Luis Cassells, that they do not own the land on which they live. When Carolinelearns that her husband's business is collapsing and the only way to save it is to develop her beloved "island," including Dayclear and the ponies' grazing lands, she realizes she must confront the part of herself that she has numbed with alcohol and careful avoidance, and she must reconsider her priorities. Luis challenges her to imagine what she would be "willing to die for," forcing Caroline to redefine her role in society, her marriage, and ultimately, herself.Topics for Discussion
1. What role does painting play in Caroline's life? What dictates her interest or ability to paint on a given day? How does her relationship to her painting change through the course of the novel?

2. Caroline's grandfather remarks to her, "No sense thinking we could keep this island to ourselves much longer, and I'd rather Clay looked after opening it up than anybody I know of. He's going to keep the spirit of it, and that's all I care about." Does Clay keep the spirit of the island intact? How has he betrayed his early vision? How do you think Caroline has managed not to notice for so many years?

3. What aspects of the Gullah culture and faith has Caroline adopted? How do the Gullah help Caro through her time of trial? What role do the Gullah myths play in Caroline's life? What does it mean to "hear the panther?"

4. The Gullah are a dying culture in need of medicine and electricity. Do you think Clay's development plans answer any of the Gullahs' needs? Is it the best solution? How else might the Gullah be better served? How else might their culture be preserved?

5. What has brought Luis Cassells to Peacock Island? How would you characterize his initial opinion of Caroline? Is there an agenda behind his initial friendship toward her? How does that agenda change through the course of the novel? Luis describes himself as a coward. Do you agree with his assessment of himself? Why do you think his granddaughter, Lita, is so drawn towards Caro?

6. What role does Kylie's ghost play in the lives of Caroline and Clay? Why does Caro want to sever relations with Kylie's ghost? How is she able to do so?

7. Clay has deeply betrayed Caro by placing everything she holds dear in dire jeopardy. Do you think it is possible for them to salvage their marriage? How will Caroline's future differ from her early years of marriage? How has she grown?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2001

    Beautiful Imagery

    This was the very first Anne Rivers Siddons book I read, and one of the most colorful books I have read in a very long time. Caro struggles with right and wrong, trying to hold on to what she has left while trying to work through her pain of the loss of her daughter. She is definitely a lady who defends what she believes is right, even though she does not have the support of those directly around her. The mental picture attained while reading this book is incredible. You feel as though you are right there...living in the area of the marsh tackies. If you never get to visit SC, at least read the book. Thank You, Janice (Aunt) for passing this book onto me after you read it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2005

    breathtaking

    I found this book to be one of great depth and unexpected twists. I was brought though so many emotions through the course of the reading. I loved the author's ability to bring the author into the beaches and marshes of the lowcountry without missing a beat.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2005

    Engaging Story

    Although I enjoyed this book, I found the ending predictable. I am generally more caught off guard by the twists and turns that Siddons is known for - part of her writing genius. However, it is an engaging story and worth reading (or listening to on tape).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2003

    Great Portrait of South Carolina

    I absolutely loved this book. Being a native of South Carolina, I truly appreciated how beautifully Anne Rivers Siddons captured my state. This book is wonderful

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2000

    Incredible read!

    Anne Rivers Siddons ranks in the top 2 or 3 of my favorite authors and this particular book hit my heart's center. The low county enchants me by itself; then add Siddons' living characters for perfection.

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