Peachtree Road

Peachtree Road

by Anne Rivers Siddons

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061256240
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/18/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 816
Sales rank: 164,569
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

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.

Hometown:

Charleston, South Carolina and a summer home in Maine overlooking Penobscot Bay

Date of Birth:

January 9, 1936

Place of Birth:

Atlanta, Georgia

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.

Reading Group Guide

Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons

"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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Peachtree Road 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
CSBE More than 1 year ago
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.
mrs.starbucks on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Peachtree Road is a sweeping Southern magnum opus, centering around Old Atlanta and Buckhead. It follows the lives of Lucy and Shep Bondurant, first cousins with an incredibly close bond. The synopsis on the back may lead you to believe that it¿s about Lucy (even though the narration is done entirely by Shep), but in a sense it is really about neither; it¿s about a time and place and a generation disintegrated by its own weight and glittering ¿perfection.¿ Ms. Siddons¿ prose is rambling and excessive and heady, much like the unconquerable honeysuckle vine whose scent seems to drift directly out of the pages. The ultimate plot may remind you of V.C. Andrew¿s books, but done with style, grace, and almost a little bit of wry humor. If Peachtree Road is anything, it is extremely well written. At certain times it¿s almost too much: too much description, too much tragedy, too many characters and themes, too many pages left towards the inevitable conclusion that you only begin to accept around the same time Shep Bondurant does. It¿s almost as exhausting just to read as it is for Shep (and others) to be bathed in ¿Lucy-ness,¿ but in the end I would say its worth it. The last two paragraphs may leave you scratching your head, but for myself, I¿ve come to the conclusion that only good things followed, even if they weren¿t talked about (and after 800 pages, I don¿t think I could have mustered the energy anyway). While it¿s true that the book could have been honed down and chrystallized with some good editing, I would almost say that doing so would have diminished it in some way. That having been said, at least one part could have been cut out cleanly due to the impact it should have had but didn¿t.My final verdict is this: I will read this book many times in the coming years, and learn something new from it each time, until it has been absorbed into my brain in all its Southern glory and tragedy and abundant summer. My review may seem like a complaint, but Peachtree Road is as vivid, alive and deliciously exhausting as Lucy Bondurant herself.
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Easy read
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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.