Synopses & Reviews
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 quiet and demur Southern belle. As the rigid aristocratic social codes exert more pressures onthe 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 Maloryturned 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?
Headstrong, exuberant, and independent, Lucy Bondurant is a devastating beauty who will never become the demure Southern lady her mother and society demand. Sheppard Gibbs Bondurant III, Lucy's older cousin, is too shy and bookish to become the classically suave and gregarious Southern gentleman his family expects. Growing up together in a sprawling home on Atlanta's Peachtree Road, these two will be united by fierce love and hate, and by rebellion against the narrow aristocratic society into which they were born. Anne Rivers Siddons's classic novel vividly brings to life their mesmerizing, unforgettable story—set against the dramatic changing landscape of Atlanta, a sleepy city destined for greatness.
Tenth anniversary edition! Set amidst the grandeur of Old Southern aristocracy, here is a novel that chronicles the turbulent changes of a great city--Atlanta--and tells the story of love and hate between a man and a woman. When Lucy comes to live with her cousin, Sheppard, and his family in the great house on Peachtree Road, she is an only child, never expecting that her reclusive young cousin will become her lifelong confidant and the source of her greatest passion and most terrible need.
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."