Synopses & Reviews
"Sometimes, I can feel in my bones a woman who's been dead 100 years wagging her finger at me, telling me that a lady doesn't make waves, a lady doesn't confront. Sometimes I find myself deferring to some old gentleman with no sense at all. It's not easy to escape . . . I think the South can be just a killer for its gifted women. My mother still says, once a year, 'It's not too late to get a teaching certificate.' . . . She just wants to make sure I'm not going to end up sleeping on a grate." Plot Summary
As a small girl, Catherine Gaillard witnesses an event which irrevocably alters the rest of life: her parents, lying naked and in the throes of ecstasy atop a bridge, are accidentally run over and killed. The experience leaves young Cat traumatized, and renders her incapable of leaving her cloistered mountaintop town in Tennessee. Once she escapes to the lofty heights of Trinity College, atop Morgan's Mountain, Cat simply refuses to ever come back down, in the fear that she would be sacrificing her ability to "see danger coming." Over the years, Cat constructs a perfect, self-contained world first for herself and then for her husband, Joe, a Yankee professor at Trinity. She manages to become the hub of social activity at Trinity, as well as raise her blind daughter, Lacey, all without ever leaving the safety of her mountain. But now, thirty years later, Cat realizes her need to confront her childhood fears and venture out into the world. When Joe's star pupils, Colin and Maria, invite the Gaillards to their wedding in Rome and then to accompany them on their honeymoon through Venice, Florence, and the surrounding Tuscany, Cat decides to take them up on their offer. Armed with thewise words of her psychiatrist and friend, Corinne, as well as a healthy quantity of Valium, Cat and Joe arrive in Rome, both exhilarated and apprehensive. They immediately find themselves swept up in the high society world of Maria's aunt Ada, and her husband, Sam Forrest, the internationally renowned charismatic painter. They are joined by the libidinous television personality, Yolanda Whitney, and soon all seven are traveling together throughout Italy. But as Italy releases in Cat a feeling of strength and confidence, her newfound freedom threatens to disrupt the comfortable patterns of her marriage. When Sam, who is currently experiencing a crippling dry spell in his painting, asks if he can paint Cat's portrait as they travel, the sexual tensions mount. The once-carefree trip turns into a journey to the very heart of their relationship and identities, as Cat and Joe find themselves in the midst of the ultimate test of their love.
Topics for Discussion
1. Three troubled marriages are portrayed in Hill Towns: Colin and Maria's, Sam and Ada's, and Cat and Joe's. How are their struggles and coping methods unique? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each couple? How would you characterize each couple? What aspects of each relationship do you find healthy? Unhealthy?
2. Cat remarks that in Venice, "we began to change in earnest, Joe and I, on that first slow ride down the Canal Grande. Or perhaps it was simply that we began to become . . . us." What does she mean? How were they not themselves while still living at Trinity? What does it mean to 'become yourself?' What role did Venice and Italy play in their changes? Do you think they would have changed had they gonesomewhere else in Europe? Or if they had merely gone somewhere else in America?
3. How does Catherine's pathology of needing to always be "able to see what was coming" manifest itself in her behavior? How has it shaped her identity? What is it that enabled her to break free from her fears?
4. How have Cat and Joe coped with their daughter's blindness? Has Lacey's disability served to bring them closer together, or has it planted the seeds of disunion?
5. Compare Joe and Sam. What qualities does Italy draw out of each? What about each of them attracts Catherine? Why are Sam and Joe drawn to Catherine? Which one best understands Cat's needs and desires?
6. Why do you think Sam wants to paint Cat's portrait? What is it he is trying to capture on canvas? Why does Sam show Cat Bernini's "Saint Teresa in Ecstasy?" What is the relationship between Sam's art and his sexuality?
7. Cat and Joe's relationship undergoes a profound change as a result of their visit to Italy. By the end of the novel, what is the state of their marriage? Has Cat betrayed Joe? Has Joe betrayed Cat? How do you define betrayal? What do you think is the next step?
This truly compelling novel is a magnificent kaleidoscope of the emotions that we most cherish -- and fear. Showcasing the rare talent of Anne Rivers Siddons at her finest, Hill Towns
probes deeply into the multiple meanings of love and relationships, as seen through the prism of one woman's life.
As a small child, a single event irrevocably changed the life of Catherine Gaillard -- and rendered her unable to leave her cloistered mountaintop town in Tennessee for the next 30 years. Her devotion to her husband, Joe, and her desire to forever put this incident behind her propel Cat on a life-changing voyage to Italy.
Making their way across the Tuscany countryside in the company of newly married friends and an exuberant painter and his enigmatic wife, Cat and Joe feel the fabric that holds their marriage together -- so carefully woven together at home -- begin to unravel. The once-carefree trip turns into a journey to the very heart of their relationship... and the ultimate test of their love.
Siddons' phenomenal national bestseller is a rare story of depth and deliverance. Spending two months on the New York Times bestseller list, Hill Towns explores the structure of marriage as a middle-aged wife and her English professor husband leave the safe haven of their Tennessee home and travel through Italy with friends.
Hill Towns is a classic novel of remarkable emotional power, insight, and sensitivity from Anne Rivers Siddons, whose books live on the New York Times bestseller list and in the hearts of millions of her adoring fans. One of the acknowledged masters of contemporary Southern fiction—the author of such phenomenally popular works as Nora, Nora; Outer Banks, Islands; and Sweetwater Creek—Siddons carries the reader from the mountains of Tennessee to the breathtaking Tuscany countryside as she brilliantly chronicles the unraveling of a marriage. Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides) says, “She ranks among the best of us,” and Hill Towns is the proof.
A single event in her childhood irrevocably marked Catherine Gaillard -- and made it impossible for her to leave her cloistered mountaintop town in Tennessee for the next thirty years. But her devotion to her husband, Joe, and her desire to forever put the incident behind her propel Cat on a life-changing trip to Italy.
Making their way across the countryside of Tuscany with two other couples, Cat and Joe soon feel themselves pulled in different directions, and the fabric of their marriage begins to unravel. Expanding beyond the bounds of a carefree trip, their journey takes them deep into the heart of their relationship...and becomes the ultimate test of their love.
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."