Sunday, August 07, 2011

Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons

What do you say about a book that you love until the last fifty pages? I'll admit, the prologue foreshadowed the ending, if I had paid close attention. But, somewhere in those last fifty pages, Anne Rivers Siddons' wonderful Burnt Mountain crashed and burned. Oh, I'll still recommend it to Siddons' fans. But, as someone said to me, now I'm dying to know what others think of this novel.

Thayer Wentworth's entire life was entangled in mountains and summer camps. Her father's family owned a cottage on Burnt Mountain, where her parents honeymooned. Despite Thayer's dreams that it was a wonderful honeymoon, it was at that camp that her mother's illusions of a glamorous marriage ended. Thayer's mother had ambitions, and she married a man from a prominent family, only to learn he wanted to remain a teacher and headmaster of Alexander Hamilton Academy in Lytton, Georgia, outside Atlanta. Thayer's mother turned to her oldest daughter, Lily, molding her in her image, while Thayer idolized her father. And, when her father and grandfather died, returning from a camp visit, Thayer's life crashed. Her beloved Grandmother Wentworth got her through until she could go to a summer camp in North Carolina. It was there at Camp Sherwood Forest, as a teenager, that she met Nick Abrams, her first love.

But, Thayer Wentworth wasn't meant to have an easy life, and she lost more than Nick when she returned home at the end of the summer. Once again, it was her Grand who got her through, sending her to college in Tennessee. Siddons moves Thayer on in life with the phrase, "And Detritus nosed the car out of our driveway and toward the Great Smoky Mountains and the rest of my life."

In her last year there, Thayer met Dr. Aengus O'Neill, a teacher of Irish literature and folklore. And, the young woman who loved "the sense of sheer story" fell in love with a man with magic in his soul, a spellbinding teacher who loved Celtic myth and story. And, it was that love of magic, and story, and one more summer camp, that stole Aengus' soul, and carried him away, as Grand has once warned Thayer it might.

What can I say? I've always loved Siddons' use of language, and I'm not one who raves about a turn of phrase.  Toward the end, Thayer sees Aengus and "All that passion now skewing so inevitably toward obsession. All the very real magic that once had shimmered around him." In her worst moment, Thayer realizes, "No matter where we traveled afterwards, she and I, I would always remember that in the worst pain of my life my mother cried for me." I read Siddons for her use of phrase.

And, I read Siddons for her characters. I liked Thayer Wentworth, her father, and her grandmother. However, as much as I liked Thayer, she seemed to drift through life, with no clear purpose. I loved her, but Thayer did seem to exist in a bubble, as she worded it. Thayer lived because of others, rather than because of herself. Her life was through her father, her grandmother, Nick, and Aengus. She tells the story of her life as it relates to these people she loved, and, in contrast to her mother.

I've always appreciated the Southern setting and Southern stories of life. However, this time, those mountains and summer camps of the South are not always happy places. In fact, they can be terrifying, leading to tragedy more than once.

What can I say about Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons? It's beautiful in places, with the language and setting and characters. And, it turns weird, almost evil, toward the end of the book. To me, that ending didn't fit the atmosphere of the rest of the book, although, I'll admit again, it was foreshadowed.  If you read it, come back here, and let me know what you think. And, if you've always been a reader of Siddons' books, I'd really like to know what you think.

Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons. Grand Central Publishing. ©2011. ISBN 9780446527897 (hardcover), 325p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Liz V. said...

I read COLONY, on the recommendation of a friend, and then NORA, NORA. I don't have a deep impression of either and haven't read Siddons' other books. Generally when I find an author whom I like, I remember and read every book. Sorry, but probably won't try BURNT MOUNTAIN.

Ingrid King said...

I'm a huge fan of Siddons and have read all her books. I just finished this one, and I was disappointed. Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed her writing, but the story never quite reeled me in, and I never quite cared enough about the characters. The book was too dark for my taste, and I felt that there was a sense of evil about it from the very start that didn't appeal to me. I also hated the ending.

Something that struck me as interesting after I finished the book was the cover. I've always loved the covers of all of her books, and would have been drawn to most of them based on their covers alone, even if I knew nothing about the author. I would never have picked this book up based on just the cover. However, I think the cover accurately reflect the darker content.

bermudaonion said...

I've got this on audio and now I'm very curious about the ending. I'll be paying careful attention to the prologue.

Beth Hoffman said...

Good morning, Lesa!

I've enjoyed Siddons in the past with Peachtree Road being one of my favorites.

Thanks so much for your balanced and honest review. When I'm in the mood to read Siddons, I'll give this one a pass and reread one of her others.

Happy Sunday to you and the kitties!

Tina's Blog said...

I am reading your review having taken a break from Burnt Mountain - 50 pages from the end. Now I am really curious about what happens with the ending. Back to the book!

Lesa said...

Thanks. It's interesting to see Ingrid felt the same way I did about this. Now, I want to know what Kathy & Tina think, once they read the book.

Sorry to disappoint you, Beth. When I was reading the book, I thought you'd like Thayer & Grand. By the end of the book, I could tell you'd be disappointed. You're right. I liked some of the other books much better. I don't blame you for skipping it, Liz.

Cindy D said...

It's been a long time since I read something by Siddons and I picked this one up based on the reviews. Your review is spot on. Aegus's change was too drastic, and the ending was so unethical it really bothered me. I wouldn't recommend this one at all.

Karen C said...

Hmmm - think I'm going to take a pass on this one for now!

Lesa said...

Thanks, Cindy, for the comment that my review was spot on. Aengus' change was too drastic. I'm not sure what happened at the end of the book to make it take that unusual turn. I do have one person I'd like to see read it, though, so I could get her opinion. And, a librarian friend said she wants to read it now to see that weird ending.

Lesa said...

Not a bad idea, Karen.

Literary Corner Cafe said...

This is book I meant to read. I might still read it, I'm not sure. I do like endings I'm not expecting, but only if they are organic.

I love reading your book blog!

Jill said...

"I read Siddons for her use of phrase." I hear you! know my thoughts on this one, and your review nailed my sentiments.

Lesa said...

I do know what you thought of this one, Jill. And, you were right on.

kathy d. said...

Now after reading this I'm scared, don't like super-evil in books, or anything that turns to horror mode.

Glad to be warned.

Am binging on Nero Wolfe right now and reading a mystery set in Brazil by Leighton Gage -- his first one in the series.

Fun so far.

I've never gone so long without reading a book by a woman author. It's a bit strange.

Bev Stephans said...

I finished this about a week ago and I have to agree with you on the ending. I have learned over the years that Siddon's books don't always have happy endings, but this was over the top! I'm still shaking my head. I honestly don't know if I will read her next one.

Tina said...

I'm a huge Siddons fan, but seem to remember that I don't always care for her endings. That said, I just got the audio of this one for review from Hachette, so I'm anxious to get started! I'm off to the pool in a few minutes, so I'm going to load it on my MP3 and listen while I work out.

Sorry it wasn't better for you.

Lesa said...


Love Leighton Gage's books because of the culture, politics & most of all, the characters. Some of his books are VERY dark and graphic, though.

Lesa said...

You're right, Bev. That ending was beyond anything I'd read, or expected, in her books. Totally bizarre.

Lesa said...

Can't wait to hear what you think, Tina.

Larraine said...

Just finished this book. It was so odd. It was like that last bit was just rushed in. There was no development, none of it made a lot of sense to me. I have never read any of her books before, so this was probably not a good intro. I loved it right up to the end when it just crashed and burned.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big Siddons fan from New Zealand, and Peachtree Road is also one of my all-time favourites. I thought the theme was very similar to her last book, and the weird ending was too out-of-step with the rest of the book. It was too contrived, so that Thayer would end up with Nick. The anachronistic reference to the Harry Potter films was jarring and poor research.

princes110 said...

I do not understand what happened at the end. Who was doing what to the boys at the camp. Was it some kind of sexual abuse. What made the boys so docile when they came home. Was it witchcraft. What got Carol so upset, why did she lose her children. I was mostly puzzled and disappointed.

Lesa said...

Sounds as if we all agree that the ending of Burnt Mountain crashed and burned itself. Just doesn't work, does it?

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book and immediately searched online for reviews about it. I agree with many people that it was nowhere near as good as Siddons' other books. The ending left me confused because the story changed so quickly with very little development to back-up the changes. The "evil" itself did not bother me, I just wish there were more explanations involved in the ending.

Nancy said...

I totally agree about the ending. It came on abruptly and was over too soon with little explanation, and was an illogical turn of plot. The Thayer, Nick, Bummer (what an awful name for a kid)thing was way too pat. Almost as if she got tired of writing.
Thanks to those of you who pointed out the errors in the timeline. Has this happened in other books by the author? You'd think that a person with so many successful books couldn't have overlooked something that important. I've only read one other book by Siddons, which was Sweetwater Creek, and I've read it twice. I loved the dog and dolphin elements. But, I've tried others and they just didn't do it for me.

Anonymous said...

hi...i've read all of anne's books and, generally, have enjoyed each one, with variations in 'likeability'. after reading these reviews, however, i think i'm going to pass on burnt mountain, as i don't like dark endings. 'appreciate the frankness by reviewers...

Anonymous said...

I have never read a book before and not understood what happened at the end. What was going on at that camp? This was my first and last book by Anne Siddons. I'm so frustrated. I was really interested to see what was happening , and I'll never know.

Anonymous said...

Just finished Burnt Mountain and immediately HAD to know if others felt as I did about this selection. Is it possible that Ms. Siddons is perhaps experiencing some age-related difficulties? Previously, I have enjoyed every ARS book; this one: not so much. Like you, I enjoyed her writing, words, descriptions, characters, etc., but when I realized that so many pages had been read without the continuity I expect, I was disappointed. So many threads leading nowhere. I can't quite imagine the obsession of Aengus, either. I am a teacher; I am of the South, and of Irish descent. Magic is good; it does exist in spite of "reality" (Nick didn't seem all that real to me, either - no matter architecture vs. Celtic Myth). Ms. Siddons has always been a lyrical storyteller, and will continue as one of my favorite authors. I wish her well, and I would never NOT read anything she has written.

Tash said...

I actually sought out reviews today, after reading this in paperback. I got it when I needed something to read and I was at a grocery store. I agree that there was some potential here and it just went weird and fell apart. If it had been fleshed out it may have flowed and the sense of dread may have built better. I just got the feeling that a whole lot was either thrown together, or cut out to keep the book short.

Meredith said...

I can't help but wonder if she actually had an infection or if her mother made it up and planned on her daughter getting an abortion before they even stepped in the doctor's office. It was too strange that her mother was so nice to her before and after the appointment. And why would the mother and the doctor not tell her that she couldn't have kids?!

Meredith said...

What I took from what was happening at the camp was that something was put in the campers' food so that the counselors could take advantage of them at night. This broke my heart and I definitely didn't see this coming. It was quite disturbing to me. This is the first book I've read by this author, any other recommendations so that I have a better impression?

Rita said...

I've read about 6 of Anne's books and have enjoyed them. I even had a chance to walk her garden in Charleston during a charity garden walk.
However, I too was quite disturbed by the "last 50 pages" of this book. It is sad when writers think they have to swerve this way to capture an audience. I can't believe her editor sent it to the press so disjointed.

Lesa said...

Sounds as if all of us thought this one was just weird at the end. I'm glad I came back to read all the comments. Sad to see such an inappropriate ending to one of her books.

Lesa said...


Here's a list - Novels[edit]
Heartbreak Hotel (1976)
The House Next Door (1978)
Fox's Earth (1981)
Homeplace (1987)
Peachtree Road (1988) XXX
Kings Oak (1990)
Outer Banks (1991) XXX
Colony (1992)
Hill Towns (1993)
Downtown (1994) XXX
Fault Lines (1995)
Up Island (1997) XXX
Low Country (1998) XXX
Nora, Nora (2000)
Islands (2004)
Sweetwater Creek (2005) XXX
Off Season (2008) XXX
Burnt Mountain (7/2010)

I put XXX behind ones that I liked. I haven't read everything, so can't answer about some.

Tammy "SweetT" said...

I just finished this today and was like "What just happened?"
I'm glad I'm not the only one with these feelings.