Years of caring for her needy family have left Merritt Fowler exhausted and confused, uncertain of who she is or what she wants. When a family argument sends her lovely, fragile daughter, Glynn, running from her Atlanta home to her Aunt Laura in Hollywood, Merritt is compelled to follow.
Her 11th novel (after Downtown) finds Siddons squarely back on track with an immensely readable narrative that's been trimmed of excesses and except for the ending unnecessary melodrama. In fact, even the symbolism here is lean and explicit: Merritt Fowler is at the end of her emotional tether and about to crack; then the earth does, in an earthquake that imperils her and three people she loves. The fault lines in Merritt's character are common to women, Siddons implies. Since her mother's death when she was 13, Merritt has been a willing caretaker for members of her family: first her younger sister, ``fragile, lovely, hungry'' Laura, now 38 and still a would-be actress; then her husband Pom, a doctor dedicated to the patients in his Atlanta clinics but demanding and dictatorial at home; then Pom's Alzheimer's-demented mother, Mommee. Merritt knows she's shortchanging her 16-year-old daughter, Glynn, who has survived one bout with anorexia but is again close to despair because she feels neglected by her father. When Glynn runs away to her aunt Laura in California, Merritt follows to bring her home but is caught up in circumstances that will forever change the lives of all three women. If Siddons initially makes Merritt a bit too perfect, selfless and saintly, she nicely traces the flowering of her heroine's self-image during several crises and a bittersweet love affair. Settings are authentically rendered, from Atlanta's upper-crust social milieu to Hollywood's tawdry glitz and the serene beauty of the redwood country near Santa Cruz. Neatly alternating earthquake lore with steamy sex scenes, Siddons manages her absorbing, if predictable, narrative with panache and though the earthquake is employed as a tear-jerking deus ex machina, readers will probably take the device as fair exchange for the various epiphanies and rites of passage that Glynn, Laura and Merritt experience. $250,000 ad/promo; first serial to Good Housekeeping; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selections; author tour. (Oct.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 01, 1996
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Excerpt from Fault Lines by Anne Rivers Siddons
On the day of my husband's annual fund-raising gala, I was down by the river liberating rats.
There were two of them on this day, massive, stolid, blunt-snouted beasts who bore no more resemblance to common house mice than beavers, or the nutria from the bayous of my childhood. Rattus rattus they were, or, more familiarly, European black rats. I looked them up in Webster's Unabridged when Pom first designated me their official executioner. I figured that if you're going to drown something, the least you can do is know its proper name. That was a fatal mistake. Name something, the old folk saying goes, and you have made it your own. Rattus rattus became mine the instant I closed Webster's, and after that I simply took the victims caught in Pom's traps down to the river and, instead of drowning them, let them go. Who, after all, would know? Only the dogs went with me, and, being bird dogs, they were uninterested in anything without wings. The leaden-footed, trundling rats were as far from the winged denizens of God's bestiary as it was possible to be. My hideous charges waddled to freedom unmolested.
There were two and three of them a day in those first steaming days of June. Pom was delighted with the humane traps. The poison put down by the exterminating company had worked even better, but the rats had all died in the walls and for almost a month before we tried the traps the house smelled like a charnel house, sick-sweet and a pestilential. We'd had to cancel several meetings and a dinner party. The exterminators had promised that the rats would all go outside to die, but none of them had, and Pom was furious with both man and beast.
"Why the hell aren't they going outside?" he said over and over.
"Would you, if you could die in a nice warm pile of insulation?" I said. "Why on earth did either of us believe they'd go outside? Why would they? They probably start to feel the pain almost immediately. They're not going to run a 10K with arsenic in their guts."