Outer Banksby Anne Rivers Siddons
Elegant Kate, walking a tightrope over an abyss of lies...sensitive, sensible, self-contained Cecie...Ginger, the heiress, sexy, vibrant, richer than sin...and poor, hopeless, brilliant Fig they came together as sorority sisters on a Southern campus in the '60s. Four young women bound by rare, blinding, early friendship they spend two idyllic spring… See more details below
Elegant Kate, walking a tightrope over an abyss of lies...sensitive, sensible, self-contained Cecie...Ginger, the heiress, sexy, vibrant, richer than sin...and poor, hopeless, brilliant Fig they came together as sorority sisters on a Southern campus in the '60s. Four young women bound by rare, blinding, early friendship they spend two idyllic spring breaks at Nag's Head, North Carolina, the isolated strip of barrier islands where grand old weatherbeaten houses perch defiantly on the edge of a storm-tossed sea. Now thirty years later, they are coming back. They are coming back to recapture the exquisite magic of those early years...to experience again the love, the enthusiasm, the passion, pain, and cruel-betrayal that shaped the four young girls into women and set them all adrift on the...Outer Banks.
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 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 columnistfor 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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On the Outer Banks of North Carolina there is a legend about the ships that have come to grief in the great autumn storms off those hungry shoals. Over the centuries there have been many; the Banks have more than earned their reputation as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Most of the graves are in Diamond Shoals, just off the point of Cape Hatteras, but the entire hundred-odd-mile sweep of coast has devoured its measure of wood and flesh. Myths and spectres and apparitions he as thick as sea fog over the Banks, but the one that I have always remembered is the one Ginger Fowler told us all...Cecie, Fig, Paul Sibley, and me...the September of my last year in college, when we were visiting her between quarters.
"They say that whenever a ship is going to go down you can hear something like singing in the wind," she said. "Bankers say it's mermaids, calling the sailors. Lots of them claim to have heard it. It's not like wind or anything. They say when you hear it, you have no choice but to follow it, and you end up on the shoals. A few of the sailors who've been rescued swear to it."
We were sitting on the front veranda of the Fowlers' house on the dunes on Nag's Head beach, watching the twilight die over the Atlantic. On either side of us hulked the great, black-weathered, two- and three-story cottages that made up what the Bankers call the Unpainted Aristocracy -- along line of huge, weather-stained wooden summer houses that had been built in the early days of the century by the very rich. When they were first built, the houses reigned alone on that lordly line of dunes, owning by sheer forcemajeure the wild, empty beach. Now they are surrounded by flealike armies of bungalows and time-shares and fishing piers and umbrella and float rentals, like mastodons beset by pygmies. But even now, when you are on the front porches or verandas, you have no sense of the graceless, idiot hordes nibbling at their skirts. Only of wind and sun and emptiness, and the endless sea.
I remember that I felt a small frisson that might have been night wind on sunburned flesh, and reached for Paul's hand. He squeezed it, but did not turn to look at me. He was looking intently at Ginger's sweet, snub face, stained red by the sun setting behind us over Roanoke Sound and by the long, golden days in the sun. Autumn on the Outer Banks is purely a sorcerer's spell: so clear you can see each grain of sand on the great dunes, and bathed in a light that is indescribable. We had stayed on the beach from dawn to sunset for the past four days, and all of us wore the stigmata on our cheeks and shoulders. But Ginger was the red-brown of cast bronze all over. The freckles on her broad cheekbones had merged in a copper mask, and her eyelashes and tow head had whitened. She looked like a piece of Mayan statuary in her faded cotton bathing suit with the boy-cut legs, squat and abundant and solid as the earth.
I thought she looked almost perfectly a piece of the old house and the older coast, but in fact her father had only bought the house two summers before, from an imperious old widow who was going, most reluctantly, to live with her children in Wilmington. Before that Ginger had summered at Gulf Shores, on the Alabama coast, and lived with her family in a small north Alabama town called, appropriately, Fowler. It consisted of a huge textile mill, a mill village and store, and little else, all of which belonged to Ginger's father. The Fowlers; were newly, enormously, and to us, almost inconceivably rich. Ginger worked very hard to conceal the fact, and succeeded so well that until we went to visit her on the Outer Banks, and saw the house, we did not really comprehend it. Fig had told us when she proposed Ginger for sisterhood in Tri Omega that Ginger had a trust fund of her own approaching five million dollars; in those days that was a breathtaking sum of money. But since none of us paid much attention to what Fig said, we either forgot it or discounted it. In the end, Ginger became a Tri Omega because we all loved her. It was impossible not to. She was as gregarious, sweet-natured, and simple as a golden retriever.
"And," Cecie observed thoughtfully, "looks not unlike one."
On the darkening porch that night at Nag's Head, Paul smiled at Ginger and said, "Have you heard the mermaids singing, Ginger?" and the little cold breath on my nape and shoulders strengthened.
"God, no," she said. "It would scare the bejesus out of me. I hope I never do."
"I wish I could," he said, and then he did look at me, and squeezed my hand again. "That would be something to hear. I think that would be worth just about anything."
I actually shivered; it seemed to me as if the very air around us had weight and meaning, and every, whirling atom had particularity and portent. But I was so much in love with him by then that everything he said, everything we did, everything that surrounded us, our entire context, had resonance and purpose. Cecie looked at me and then at Paul, and said, "I think I'll go make some tea," and rose and padded into the house. I watched her out of sight, thinking once more how like a small, slender boy she looked in silhouette, wishing that she liked Paul better.Outer Banks. Copyright © by Anne Rivers Siddons. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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