Low Country

Low Country

4.6 11
by Anne Rivers Siddons, Cristine McMurdo-Wallis
     
 

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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

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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.

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 the Plains."

During her student yearsat 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."

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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:
9780788721632
Publisher:
Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
01/07/2002
Edition description:
Unabridged

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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What People are saying about this

Pat Conroy
Siddons has never written a sentence that did not have music in it.

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