Veteran novelist and former Atlanta magazine staffer Anne Rivers Siddons sets her eighteenth novel, Burnt Mountain (Grand Central Publishing), in the metro area. These days Siddons divides her time between Maine and coastal South Carolina, but Atlanta “is burned into my heart and retinas,” she says. “I’ve kept all I know of it.” Indeed, Siddons captures the lush, old-money neighborhoods and the prickly Perimeter wars—inside or out?—with clear affection. “There are maybe ten small towns and communities orbiting Atlanta like dwarf moons,” she writes. “Most of them are close enough to the city to lie, figuratively, under its canopy, like fruit dropped from a great tree.” Burnt Mountain is steeped in Celtic myth, loss, and breathtaking betrayal. Thayer Wentworth grows up a tomboy in a proper family. In one magical summer at camp, she meets her first love and has her first heartbreak. Years later she marries Aengus O’Neill, an Irish professor with “banked-fire blue” eyes that only hint of the dark magic to come. Throughout Thayer’s life, her twisted relationship with her mother provides a powerful undertow. Siddons, now seventy-five, sometimes lays the drama on pretty thick, but her skill at drawing nuanced characters, painting beautiful scenes, and simply writing perfect sentences is on full display here.
Do you consider yourself a romantic? Oh, yes. I can get myself through the world, but I’ve always been able to take reality or leave it.
This is your eighteenth novel. Do they get easier to write or more difficult? Never easier. Faster sometimes, but never easier.
Do you have a favorite myth or legend? When I was a child in Fairburn, Georgia, all us kids knew about the Crompton Booger. He lived under a bridge over the Chattahoochee River to our west and would come out and chase carriages and wagons. He had the head of a lion, the body of a horse, and long, sharp talons And a terrible scream. He came into Fairburn sometimes—I guess on off nights. I never met him, but my best friend heard him stomping and shrieking on her roof three separate times. My envy was boundless.
What inspired this novel? Basically, a conversation with a friend about mothers and daughters.
What’s a perfect day for you? Books, beach, cats, mostly solitude—beside water. The water is the absolute basic. Oh, and my husband.
What’s your earliest memory? I think my mother rocking me before the fire and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I called him Jeezy.
Also new . . .
THE ORCHARD (Thomas Dunne Books)
TV screenwriter turned novelist Jeffrey Stepakoff (Dawson’s Creek) immersed himself in the mysterious world of flavor and fragrance design to craft a love story that begins with one bite of an apple from an organic orchard in the North Georgia mountains.
FALLEN (Delacorte Press)
Another summer, another nail-biter from Karin Slaughter, master of the crime thriller and ardent advocate of public libraries (savethelibraries.com). Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Faith Mitchell arrives home to find a bloody handprint on the front door, her infant daughter hidden in a shed out back, and her mother missing.
RED SUMMER (Henry Holt)
Cameron McWhirter, a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal in Atlanta, makes the case that widespread black resistance to lynchings and other violence signaled the true start of the civil rights movement.
NO ONE IN THE WORLD (Simon & Schuster)
The late E. Lynn Harris and novelist RM Johnson had nearly finished this fictional collaboration when Harris died in 2009. Johnson, a writing teacher at Atlanta Metropolitan College, tells the story of estranged twin brothers Cobi, a slick attorney and closeted gay, and Eric Reed, a career criminal raised in foster care.
Photograph courtesy of Anne Rivers Siddons