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.
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