Anne Rivers Siddons's insightful and deeply felt narrative takes us back into the place she knows best -- Carolina's Low Country. Anny Butler is a caretaker, a nurturer, first for her own brothers and sisters, and then as a director of an agency devoted to the welfare of children. What she has never had is a real family. That changes when she meets and marries Lewis Aiken, an exuberant surgeon fifteen years older than Anny. When they marry, she finds her family ' not a traditional one, but a group of Charleston childhood friends who are inseparable, who are one another's surrogate family. They are called the Scrubs, and they all, in some way, have the common cord of family.
Instantly upon meeting them at the old beach house on Sullivan's Island, which they co-own, Anny knows that she has found home and family. They vow that, when the time comes, they will find a place where they can live together by the sea.
Bad things begin to happen ' a hurricane, a fire, deaths ' but still the remaining Scrubs cling together. They are watched over and bolstered by Camilla Curry, the heart and core of their group, always the healer. Anny herself allows Camilla to enfold and to care for her. It is the first time she has felt this kind of love and support.
"One of her best novels to date.... A beautifully detailed evocation of privileged lives."
Middle-aged readers especially will warm to Siddons's 15th novel, in which a group of old friends play together, age together and endure the vicissitudes of fate. Returning to the Carolina low country where she is most at home, Siddons explores the mystique of an elite social strata whose members are held together by bloodlines, loyalty and tradition, and by the love of their city, Charleston, and the offshore islands-Edisto and Sullivan's-where they spend their leisure time. Newcomer Anny Butler, the director of a Charleston philanthropic social services agency, is accepted into the close-knit group, who call themselves the Scrubs, when she marries surgeon Lewis Aiken. Thereafter, the novel records the idyllic lives of beautiful people who have wealth, intelligence, breeding and a passion for hunting dogs. Siddons dwells lovingly on details of landscape and atmosphere, flora and fauna, home decoration, and food specialties and the bistros where they are served. Everything is picturesque to the nth degree, somewhat like a Thomas Kincaid painting. Relentlessly chirpy dialogue moves the plot along, while various illnesses and accidents take their toll on once happy couples. Lush overwriting sets the tone: one character "shone like a beacon in the great gilded room, and people flocked around her as if to a fire"; later, she is perceived as "thrumming with a kind of palpable radiance... you could almost see the dancing particles of light around her." When Siddons shows that nothing is what it seems, the revelation is almost inevitable. Yet she cannot be surpassed in evoking a kind of life peculiar to the South, with its emphasis on grace, good manners and stoic endurance. Her fans will find Siddons's narrative charisma intact and blooming. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2004
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Excerpt from Islands by Anne Rivers Siddons
I MET LEWIS AIKEN when I was thirty-five and resigned to the fact that I would not marry for love, only, perhaps, for convenience, and he was fifty and had long been married, until fairly recently, for no reason other than love. For a long time after our relationship began, I thought we had turned ourselves about; that I was the one who loved, clumsily and foolishly, with the passion of one who has never really felt passion before, and Lewis was the one who found in me comfort and convenience. By that time I did not care. He could name the terms. I would be whatever he wanted and needed me to be.
We met on an afternoon in April, humid and punishing as spring can often be in the Carolina Low Country, when the air felt like thick, wet steam and the smell of the pluff mud from the marshes around Charleston stung in nostrils and permeated clothes and hair. I was bringing a frightened, clubfooted child to the free clinic Lewis operated on Saturdays, and we were running late. My old Toyota was coughing and gagging in the heat, and I had turned off the air conditioner to spare its strength, and was running sweat. In the backseat, buckled into her car seat, the child howled steadily and dismally.
I did not blame her. I wanted to howl myself. Her feckless mother had dropped her off in my office the afternoon before and faded away for the second time running, leaving me to scramble around for a place for her daughter to spend Friday night and then pick her up the next day and take her to the clinic myself. Back in my office the paperwork that was the effluvia of desperate need mounted steadily.
"Sweetie, please stop crying," I said desperately, over my shoulder. "We're going to see the nice man who's going to help get your foot fixed, and then you can run around and jump and... oh, play soccer." I had no idea what movement would tempt a five-year-old, but it obviously was not soccer. The howls mounted.
I pulled into the lot next to the beautiful old house on Rutledge Avenue that housed Dr. Lewis Aiken's Low Country Pediatric Orthopedic Clinic. I knew that Dr. Aiken had long done free diagnostic and referral work with handicapped -- physically challenged, I could not keep up -- children from all around the region. He was regarded in my agency as one of the city's greatest child resources, one of our constant angels. The agency I managed was a part federally, part privately funded sort of clearinghouse for services for needy children and adolescents, and by that time I knew where all the angels were located.