When Maude Chambliss first arrives at Retreat, the seasonal home of her husband's aristocratic family, she is a nineteen-year-old bride fresh from South Carolina's Low Country. Among the patrician men and women who reside in the summer colony on the coast of Maine, her gypsy-like beauty and impulsive behavior immediately brand her an outsider. She, as well as everyone else, is certain she will never fit in. And of course, she doesn't... at first.
But over the many summers she spends there, Maude comes to cherish life in the colony, as she does the people who share it with her. There is her husband Peter, consumed with a darkness of spirit; her adored but dangerously fragile children; her domineering mother-in-law, who teaches her that it is the women who possess the strength to keep the colony intact; and Maine native Micah Willis, who is ultimately Maude's truest friend.
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September 03, 2002
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Excerpt from Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons
All places where the French settled early have corruption at their heart, a kind of soft, rotten glow, like the phosphorescence of decaying wood, that is oddly attractive. Seductive, even, if my mother-in-law, whose astonishing opinion that was, was to be believed. And she was always believed. The conventional wisdom of her day was that Hannah Stuart Chambliss would rather be burnt at the stake than tell a lie. I don't find that surprising at all. I think the Maid of Orleans role would have pleased Mother Hannah to a fare-thee-well, even the fiery martyr's death. Mother H had a streak of thespian in her as wide as her savage stratum of truth, and she employed it just as fiercely when the need arose. I never knew anyone who escaped those twin lashes except my husband, Peter. He alone might have profited from them.
She told me that, about the corruption and the seduction, on the evening I came to Retreat colony for the first time. It must have been in her mind ever since she first met me, the year before, when Peter took me to the big house in Boston to meet her and his father, but she had never voiced it until then. But it was plain to me -- and, I suppose, to Peter -- that it, or something like it, lay like an iceberg beneath her austere and beautiful surface. Oh, she smiled her carved Etruscan smile, all the years of our relationship, and hugged me lightly and kissed my cheek with lips like arctic butterflies, but none of us were fooled. I don't think she meant us to be. My unsuitability hung in the pristine air of the Chambliss drawing room like a body odor.