By the #1 bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany and In Tuscany, Swan is a haunting novel set in the deep South -- a resonant tale of long-buried family secrets and mysteries brought suddenly to light. In her celebrated memoirs of life in Tuscany, Frances Mayes writes masterfully about people in a powerful and shaping place. In Swan, her first novel, she has created an equally intimate world, rich with striking characters and intriguing twists of fate, that hearkens back to her southern roots. The Masons are a prominent but now fragmented family who have lived for generations in Swan, an edenic, hidebound small town in Georgia. As Swan opens, a bizarre crime pulls Ginger Mason home from her life as an archeologist in Italy: The body of her mother, Catherine, a suicide nineteen years before, has been mysteriously exhumed. Reunited on new terms with her troubled, isolated brother J.J., who has never ventured far from Swan, the Mason children grapple with the profound effects of their mother's life and death on their own lives.
Combining elements from her own life abroad and at home, Mayes presents her first novel, after a series of wildly popular Italian memoirs (Under the Tuscan Sun, etc.). The author, a Georgia native, has much working in her favor: she's built up a legion of loyal readers through her nonfiction, and this tale which takes place in a Steel Magnolias-like sleepy Southern town offers the tried and true matters of family saga, mystery and Americana. The Mason family has owned cotton mills and other valuable real estate in the town of Swan, Ga. for generations. J.J. and Ginger Mason lost their mother, Catherine, when they were children. Now they are in their early 30s, and Ginger is living where else in Tuscany, working as an archeologist; J.J. is still in Swan, a sort of reclusive mountain man who spends his days sketching the arrowheads he finds on fishing trips. They're reunited when bad news surfaces: Catherine's body has mysteriously been dug up, 19 years after her death. Ginger flies home, and she and J.J., while at a loss as to whodunit, begin to unearth previously unknown details about their mother's life. With the steady if not necessarily riveting mystery serving as a base plot, Mayes weaves various side stories involving the unfortunate demise of Ginger and J.J.'s father and the fate of their grandfather's mistress, among others. Mayes's writing is smooth and her homespun evocations of the steamy South are moving. And although the story begins to lose its oomph after 200 or so pages, this is a pleasurable read that will please Mayes's devotees. Agent, Peter Ginsberg. (Oct. 8) Forecast: The built-in audience, Mayes's name recognition and probable media play targeted at reading groups will surely ignite sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 25, 2003
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