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Burnt Mountain an overcooked and odd creation
bookreview

‘Burnt Mountain’

Written by: Anne Rivers Siddons
Price: $25.99
Rating: three out of five bookmarks

Written by: Anne Rivers Siddons
Price: $25.99
Rating: three out of five bookmarks

Peanut butter and chocolate. Dinner and a movie. When someone really enjoys two particular things, oftentimes those two things joined together make each other even better.

For example, I like women’s fiction that focuses on female characters coping with the struggles of their personal lives; I also love folklore and fairy tales, particularly the darker ones with the nightmarish woven into the whimsy.

So you would think these two genres brought together could make for an original, mystifying tale that would offer a new perspective on how present day reality and ancient myth can affect one another.

Or you can get something confusingly weird. Such is the case with Anne Rivers Siddons’ upcoming novel, "Burnt Mountain."

In Siddon’s story, Thayer Wentworth has a past saturated with loss and sorrow. Growing up in the quiet Georgian town of Lytton, she has always been at odds with her mother, a woman obsessed with being part of the socially elite.

Thayer’s father perished in a car accident on nearby Burnt Mountain, and her first true love, fellow summer-camp attendee Nick Abrams, goes away to Europe and is never heard from again. The only comfort in Thayer’s life is her grandmother, Caroline, a steady voice of reason and support, and an anchor for Thayer in the rough seas of her tumultuous life.

When Thayer goes to college, she meets and marries one of her professors, Aengus, an Irish writer whose greatest passion is Celtic folklore. When Caroline passes away and leaves Thayer her house in Atlanta, the newlyweds move in and become connected to the more upscale members of the community.

When Aengus agrees to tell stories to the boys at the newly established Camp Forever, built on the same site where Thayer’s father died years before, a whole series of strange events begin to occur, as an enigmatic presence at the camp alters the people who go there.

Soon, Thayer finds herself caught up in a terrible tangle of dark secrets, testing her relationships with her family, her increasingly-estranged husband, and her lost true love.

This is the first novel that I have read by Anne Rivers Siddons, who is a versatile, highly praised best-selling author. She has written close to 20 books, several of which have been adapted for film and television.

There are certainly many strong points to her writing: Siddons’ style is charming and touching, and her characters do not feel like rehashes of common stereotypes.

The author does best when developing her female characters — the emotional tensions between the mothers and daughters in the story run a wide gamut. However, I couldn’t help but feel like all of the prominent male characters were uncomfortably creepy — one of which I understand was intended to be, but the other I think was meant to be Thayer’s ideal man, but he still came across as obsessive, almost like a stalker.

I am not sure if Siddons commonly combines realistic storytelling with fantastical elements, but here the two aspects do not feel balanced and they do not completely mesh together effectively.

For the majority of the novel, the narrator sets a realistic although melodramatic tone as she describes real places, typical (and often bittersweet) coming of age episodes and life-changing traumas that many people have experienced.

Then abruptly, when the story introduces us to Camp Forever and Aengus’s folklore re-enactments, it turns into fantasy territory, with no explanation for how the two worlds cross one another or why.

Without anything to establish early on how these events fit into Thayer’s story, it seems wildly out of place and was more head-scratching than awe-inspiring.

"Burnt Mountain" will be available in bookstores around mid-July, and while Siddons does indeed offer the reader something unusual, it may seem a bit overdone for most readers — maybe "burnt" is an appropriate titular term.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her.

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