Peachtree Road

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Overview

Headstrong, independent, and devastatingly beautiful Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable will never become the demure Southern lady her family requires—while her older cousin, Sheppard Gibbs Bondurant III, is too shy and bookish, a far cry from the suave, gregarious Southern gentleman he's expected to be. In the Bondurants' sprawling home on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, these two will be united by a fierce tainted love—and torn apart by a smoldering rage fanned by the cruelty of years ...
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Peachtree Road

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Overview

Headstrong, independent, and devastatingly beautiful Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable will never become the demure Southern lady her family requires—while her older cousin, Sheppard Gibbs Bondurant III, is too shy and bookish, a far cry from the suave, gregarious Southern gentleman he's expected to be. In the Bondurants' sprawling home on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, these two will be united by a fierce tainted love—and torn apart by a smoldering rage fanned by the cruelty of years and the unbending demands of privilege.

A masterful tale of love, hate, and rebellion set in an elite world of class and wealth, New York Times bestselling author Anne Rivers Siddons's Peachtree Road is the unforgettable story of the turbulent growth of a great Southern city and of two people cursed by blood and birth.

Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable is a beautiful woman of great passion and terrible need. Sheppard Gibbs Bondurant III--Lucy's cousin and lifelong confidant--is a man turned recluse by his own fatal feelings. Their mesmerizing story spans four decades--chronicling the astonishing love and hate between them and the turbulent transformation of their once-magnificent South.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In ``a suspenseful tale featuring vividly portrayed characters,'' narrator Shepard Gibbs Bondurant III tells the story of his bewitchingly beautiful but manipulative, destructive cousin Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable. Siddons's ``imaginative plot twists make this hefty novel an absorbing page-turner,'' wrote PW. Dec.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061097232
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Edition number: 10
  • Pages: 832
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.24 (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

Chapter One


Lucy came to live with us in the house on Peachtree Road, when she was five and I was seven, and before that April day was over I learned two things that altered almost grotesquely the landscape and weather of my small life. I learned that not all women wept in the nights after the act of love.

And I learned that we were rich.

That those tidbits of information should literally change a world seems perhaps a bit strange now, when children of seven digest with equanimity the daily disclosure of the sexual peccadilloes of politicians and television evangelists and the felonious traffic in billions by arbitragers and governments. But the Buckhead and Atlanta of that day were infinitely smaller principalities than now, and my own cosmos within them was minuscule. I literally had nothing with which to compare my life, and so assumed, in the manner of cloistered only children, that everything and everybody else was as we were.

I knew that my mother cried at night after having intercourse with my father, because I had slept since my infancy in a small room that had been intended as the dressing room for my parents' bedroom, and I could hear clearly each muffled grunt and thrust of that mute and furious coupling, each accelerating squeal of bedsprings, each of my father's grudging, indrawn breaths. From my mother I heard nothing during the act, but each time, without fail, that he finished with a snort and began to snore, her weeping would start, and I would lie, muscles stiff and breath held with dread and unexamined fury, waiting for her to stop. I knew precisely how long she would cry, and when the weeping would cease on adeep, rattling sigh, and when the traitorous springs would creak once more as she turned over into sleep, and only then would I unknot my fists and let myself slide into sleep, following her.

I cannot ever remember wondering what it was that they did in the nights that occasioned the strange hoarse cries, and the alien weeping—for at all other times my mother was one of the most self-possessed women I have ever known. I knew what transpired in their bedroom from the time I could barely walk, though I had no name for the act until Lucy came, and even then only the shadowiest notion of its import. My mother never closed the door between our rooms, and never allowed my father to close it, and for a few weeks and months when I was about two and had just learned to wriggle over the bars of my crib and toddle to the threshold of their bedroom, I watched that darkling coupling.

It must have frightened me to see the two great titans of my existence grappling in murderous silence on the great canopied tester bed, but I never ran into the room and never cried out, and I do not know to this day whether they knew I was there. How they could have avoided at some time or other raising their heads to see my small, stone-struck figure silhouetted in the sickly glow from my Mickey Mouse night-light I cannot imagine, but neither of them ever gave the smallest sign, and I would hang there night after night, a small Oedipal ghost haunting in despair a chamber where he was not acknowledged.

After a time I stopped going to the door to watch, and soon was no longer afraid, but I never slept until they were done, and I never lost the feeling of violation that the sounds gave me, or the resulting bile-flood of guilty rage at them. Even then, something cool and infinitesimal deep within me knew that I was being burdened and exploited as no child should be. Oddly, it was never at my father that the jet of my little fury was directed, but at my mother. He was a massive, tight, furiously simple, red and white-blond man who vented his considerable tempers and passions directly, and wherever they happened to erupt. As useless to feel rage at him as at a volcano, or a broken water main.

No, it was my mother, the cool, slender, exquisite and infinitely aware vessel for his passions, at whom my anger steamed. It seemed to me that no one so totally self-defined and perceived and carefully calibrated as my mother should allow anything done to her person that would cause weeping, and I was angry at her both for the tears and for making me listen to them. But since my parents were all there was, for practical purposes, to my world, and since I loved my mother and feared my father passionately, I neither admitted the anger nor shut the door. I simply moved, for the first seven years of my life, in a dark and decaying stew of unacknowledged sexuality and anger, and neither cursed the darkness nor thought it out of the ordinary until Lucy Bondurant blew it away on a gust of her extraordinary laughter. On the surface, to the rest of the small society in which I moved, I must have appeared the most unremarkable and ordinary of small boys.

It was for the same reason that I did not know we were rich: There was nothing and no one who appeared different from us Bondurants in the entire sphere of my existence, and where there is no concept of poor, neither can there be one of rich. There were, of course, Shem and Martha Cater, who lived over the old stable-turned-garage behind the house and worked in the kitchen and pantry and drove the Chrysler and answered the door and sometimes served meals in the big dining room when people came to dinner, and there was Amos, who worked in the yard, and Lottie, who came in to cook, and Princess, who brought the hand laundry, fragrant, silky, and still warm, in a rush basket.

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Reading Group Guide

"I'm very tired of books that romanticize the South as it is today. I want to write about the South as the South really is. I'm getting a lot of comparisons between Peachtree Road and Gone With the Wind, which just drives me wild! I guess that's inevitable when any woman from Atlanta writes a big book. But as much as I respect Margaret Mitchell and love that book, it was not the truth about Atlanta, and it perpetuated some pretty dangerous myths. I hope I will never do that. I think there is enough drama in the way things really were in the transition from a smaller South into the newer, much different one."
Plot Summary

Along a quiet street on a hill at the outskirts of Atlanta live a dying breed of Southern aristocrats. Growing up in sprawling mansions, and attended to by black servants, these Buckhead families form a tight nucleus of wealth and power. This privileged way of life is about to be shattered by the nascent Civil Rights Movement, and the arrival of the headstrong, exuberant beauty, Lucy Bondurant. From the moment young Lucy, her siblings, and their mother, Willa, arrive on their in-law's front doorstep, life in the Bondurant mansion at 2500 Peachtree Road will never be the same. Lucy and her shy older cousin, Sheppard Gibbs Bondurant III, instantly forge a tight, obsessive bond with one another that will leave a trail of ruin and misery in its path. As Lucy and Shep grow from children to adults, it quickly becomes clear that Shep will never be the gregarious and suave Southern gentleman his family expects, and Lucy will never become a quietand demur Southern belle. As the rigid aristocratic social codes exert more pressures on the young cousins, their fierce infatuation with one another grows stronger. When Shep attempts to break away from his cousin and lead a separate life in New York as a librarian, Lucy begins to experience severe manic episodes. Swerving from hospital beds to bad marriages and back again, Lucy desperately searches for the father she never had, and finds, instead, heartbreak and betrayal. As Atlanta transforms itself from a sleepy Southern town into a thriving modern metropolis, the Bondurants struggle with a legacy of incest and their own frustrated, impossible desires.

Topics for Discussion

1. Peachtree Road begins with the famous sentence, "The South killed Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable on the day she was born." How so? What aspects of the South laid the groundwork for her "textbook murder" before Lucy was even born? How was her destruction "classical in concept?" Could anyone have saved her?

2. Both Lucy and her mother, Willa, were outsiders to the world of Peachtree Road. How did they each adapt to their new environment? What steps do they each take to insure their own protection? Who was more successful, and why? What price did each of them pay for their adaptation?

3. Why were Lucy and Shep so obsessed with one another? How did they each define themselves by the other? By always being Lucy's "rescuing knight," did Shep exacerbate or ameliorate Lucy's manic behavior? How much responsibility does he bear for Lucy's death? Was it a murder, or a suicide?

4. Why does the novel begin with Lucy's funeral? How does the flashback structure affect your experience of Shep's tale? What is the significance of funerals for the Peachtree Road society?

5. By the time Malory turned eighteen, Shep, "had learned, finally, the value of love held lightly in an open hand." What does he mean by that? How had he come to this realization? What are some loves of his life that were NOT "held lightly in an open hand?"

6. Shep remarks frequently on the difficulties faced by Southern women. Do the men of Peachtree Road fare much better? What sorts of pressures do Southern men endure in the novel?

7. How was the elder Ben Cameron the architect of his own political obsolescence? What plans did Ben have for the Buckhead Boys, and Shep in particular? How did the younger Peachtree Road generation fail him?

8. How would you characterize Lucy's relationship with the black people in her life? Why might she have gravitated to their company? Why might she have so fervently adopted their struggles as her own? Do they ultimately betray her? Or does she betray their cause?

9. What role does incest play in the Bondurant family? How does it structure the family's dynamic? Why do you think it is so prevalent? Is it a useful metaphor for the entire privileged class of the South? Why or why not?

10. What role does the elder Ben Cameron play in the Civil Rights Movement? Is it odd that he grooms his chauffeur's son for the position of mayor? Is there a contradiction to having black servants and yet campaigning for racial equality? Do the Camerons' servants enjoy special privileges denied to other servants on Peachtree Road?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 19, 2011

    Excellent!

    Peachtree Road is one of my favorite books. After I finished it, I wanted to read everything Anne Rivers Siddon wrote. Colony was good, but none of Siddens' books holds a candle to this one. I loved the writing, the story, and most of all the characters. If you want a good beach read, take this book with you. It's so good that it leaves you wanting for more. Sadly,they're hard to find.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2010

    Unforgetable and haunting

    This was one of the best novels I have read. I enjoyed the characters and the way they were developed. I hated to come to the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2010

    Stick it in your ear!

    I just finished Peachtree last night and it left me in tears. The book is a fantastic tale about the South and the people who thrive and are maimed there. I know its long and it takes a couple chapters to really get into but once you do...My God its great. I love how the length allows you to grow with the characters and really see how they chang, some much more drastically than others. The ending is incredibly shocking to say the least and pulls hard on your heart strings. Its almost nostalgic at some parts at the end and the phrase "Stick it in your ear" will always haunt me. 5 stars.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 1, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    If you like Southern writers, then this is a must read for you.

    Anne Rivers Siddons is one of my favorite authors. This is my favorite of all the books I have read by Ms. Siddons. It is a perfect Southern coming of age story. Loved it!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2006

    One of her best novels

    Peachtree Road is one of Ms. Siddons best. The writing is precise without a wasted word or thought. The story takes many twists and turns along the way which cannot be anticipated. The book shows the anguish of love and need. Ms. Siddons sets up anticipation in the first chapter which is not answered until the last few pages. Definitely, this is a book worth reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    Easy read

    Easy read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2014

    There is only one word to describe this book--tiresome!! Entir

    There is only one word to describe this book--tiresome!!


    Entirely too much description for the reader to endure.
    Save your time and money and pass on this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2001

    Breaking Away, Southern-Style

    This novel is a wonderful tale of a girl's 'coming of age' through the 60's in a prudish high Atlanta society, where everyone is against her for her outlandish ways. For anyone who suffered through numerous 'growing pains,' this is a definite 'must read.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2001

    A magnificent work of literature.

    This is one of the best works of fiction I have ever read. It is a very touching story. I could'nt put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2000

    Anne Rivers Siddons Fan Rates It Tops

    I have read all of her books, and this one is my favorite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2000

    Buckhead boy loves Peachtree Road

    Having grown up at the time and place of this novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The authors details of Buckhead, Ga, made me think I might have gone to high school with her. Recommended for any one from Atlanta that grew up in the 50's & 60's.

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    Posted April 6, 2010

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