Synopses & Reviews
All places where the French settled early have corruption at their heart, a kind of soft, rotten glow, like the phosphorescence of decaying wood, that is oddly attractive. Seductive, even, if my mother-in-law, whose astonishing opinion that was, was to be believed. And she was always believed. The conventional wisdom of her day was that Hannah Stuart Chambliss would rather be burnt at the stake than tell a lie. I don't find that surprising at all. I think the Maid of Orleans role would have pleased Mother Hannah to a fare-thee-well, even the fiery martyr's death. Mother H had a streak of thespian in her as wide as her savage stratum of truth, and she employed it just as fiercely when the need arose. I never knew anyone who escaped those twin lashes except my husband, Peter. He alone might have profited from them.
She told me that, about the corruption and the seduction, on the evening I came to Retreat colony for the first time. It must have been in her mind ever since she first met me, the year before, when Peter took me to the big house in Boston to meet her and his father, but she had never voiced it until then. But it was plain to me--and, I suppose, to Peter--that it, or something like it, lay like an iceberg beneath her austere and beautiful surface. Oh, she smiled her carved Etruscan smile, all the years of our relationship, and hugged me lightly and kissed my cheek with lips like arctic butterflies, but none of us were fooled. I don't think she meant us to be. My unsuitability hung in the pristine air of the Chambliss drawing room like a body odor.
But it was not until Peter brought me as a bride to the old brown cottage on Penobscot Bay, in northernMaine, where the Chamblisses had summered for generations, that she allowed that particular little clot of displeasure to pass, and with it damned me and Charleston, and, indeed the entire indolent, depraved South to Retreat's own efficient purgatory. That she said it with a little hug of my shoulders and a small laugh, in response to something old Mrs. Stallings bellowed in her ginny bray, did nothing to mitigate its sting.
Augusta Stallings looked at me, small and roundly curved and black-eyed and -haired and brown with sun, standing in the chilly camphor dusk of the cottage's living room, and fell upon my utter alienness, in that place of fair straight hair and rain-colored eyes and long bones and teeth and oval New England faces, like a trout on a mayfly.
" Charleston, you say?" she shouted. " Gascoigne, from Charleston? I know some Pinckneys and a Huger, but I never met any Gascoignes. French, is it? Or Creole, I expect. Well, you're a colorful little thing, no doubt about that. You'll open some eyes at the dining hall, my girl."
And that is when my mother-in-law laid her long Stuart arm around my shoulders and made her light little speech about the French and corruption and seduction. My face flamed darker, but I doubt that anyone noticed. The cottage's living room was as dark as a cave because Hannah would rarely allow the huge lilac trees that obscured its windows to be cut. It was the first thing I did after she died.
Peter pulled me close, grinning first at his mother and then at Augusta Stallings.
" The only French who settled in Charleston were four hundred good gray Huguenots on the run after Louis the Fourteenth revoked the Edict ofNantes, " he said. " Not a jot or tittle of corruption in the lot of them. Or seductiveness either, I imagine. Unless, of course, you meant that Maude was an octoroon, Mama?"
" Don't be silly, Peter, " Hannah said, in a tone that said she had indeed entertained the possibility. There was my dark skin, after all, and the black eyes, and the hair that curled in tight ringlets around my head. And something about the nose....
" You mean a nigger?" Augusta Stallings brayed, peering more closely at me in the cold, pearly dusk. The tumbler of neat gin that she held sloshed onto the sisal rug.
An unforgettable story of love, acceptance, and tradition.
When Maude Chambliss first arrives at Retreat, the seasonal home of her husband's aristocratic family, she is a nineteen-year-old bride fresh from South Carolina's Low Country. Among the patrician men and women who reside in the summer colony on the coast of Maine, her gypsy-like beauty and impulsive behavior immediately brand her an outsider. She, as well as everyone else, is certain she will never fit in. And of course, she doesn't...at first.
But over the many summers she spends there, Maude comes to cherish life in the colony, as she does the people who share it with her. There is her husband Peter, consumed with a darkness of spirit; her adored but dangerously fragile children; her domineering mother-in-law, who teaches her that it is the women who posses the strength to keep the colony intact; and Maine native Micah Willis, who is ultimately Maude's truest friend.
This brilliant novel, rich with emotion, is filled with appealing, intense, and indomitable characters. Anne Rivers Siddons paints a portrait of a woman determined to preserve the spirit of past generations--and the future of aplaice where she became who she is...a place called Colony.
"An outstanding multigenerational novel...We are hooked from the moment we meet Maude."
The New York Times
Colony, a rich multigenerational novel set in Maine, showcases Siddons' talent for storytelling. Maude arrived at "Retreat" that first summer a 19-year-old bride whose Southern origins and gypsy-like beauty mark her as an outsider. Years later, now a confident matriarch, she attempts to preserve the elite colony's future.
About the Author
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 columnist for the Auburn Plainsmanat 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 Atlantamagazine. Started by renowned mentor, Jim Townsend, the Atlantacame 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 Earthand 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 Roadushered 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."