Once upon a time, I really enjoyed Anne Rivers Siddons' books. They were never great literature; even in terms of contemporary, mass-market Southern fiction, Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides are far stronger. But Siddons' Outer Banks and Colony were decent beach reads, and Peachtree Road was even somewhat memorable.
And then somehow, something changed. Maybe I reached my Siddons saturation point; maybe the author ran out of new ideas; maybe it was a little of both. Regardless of the whys, the bloom is definitely off the rose. I checked out #21 - Off Season for much the same reasons I'd read her last few books: I stumbled across it in the library, figured it'd be a light snack to tide me over between weightier books, and hoped somehow it'd be a guilty but entertaining pleasure a la Outer Banks et al. Well, it wasn't, really. While I've decided to give up on the numerical ratings, this book wouldn't have scored very highly. At best, it's a passable if somewhat silly weekend read; at worst, if you've read Siddons' other books, this is the literary equivalent of cleaning out the leftovers in the fridge.
Off Season is the story of Lilly, a 60 year old sculptor who, as the novel begins, is driving from her Washington, D.C. home to her long-time summer place on the coast of Maine to scatter the ashes of her late husband Cam. We then flash back to the year Lilly was 11, when what begins as another timeless, unchanging summer at the Edgewater colony is quickly shaken up by the arrival of 2 newcomers: the lovely but insufferable Peaches Davenport, who shamelessly uses a tragic loss in her past to get attention, and golden boy Jon Lowell, who has a tragic loss in his own past and becomes Lilly's first love. All is idyllic, or close, until Peaches stumbles upon Jon and Lilly's first kiss, and reveals a heretofore-unknown secret from Jon's family's past. Tragedy ensues.
Fast-forward 7 years. Lilly now has 2 tragic losses of her own under her belt, and is on the brink of starting college. She and Cam meet, fall in love at first sight, and are married within a few months. Apparently, they have a perfect marriage, though we see little between the courtship and Cam's death save the moment when they learn each other's deep, dark, tragic secrets.
If it seems like I'm hyping the tragic losses and deep, dark secrets a bit much, well ... them's just the facts. Throw in the timeless-magic-of-the-summer-place setting, a vicious coastal storm, a pinch of the crazy or supernatural, and one femme fatale whose wicked vengefulness knows no bounds, and stir. The result is a book that's been done, and done quite a bit better, before. Lilly's whimsical, just-this-side-of-crazy delusions are silly, overdramatic, and frankly, boring. While any one of the tragic losses on the story's scoreboard would certainly be devastating, the way in which they're revealed -- particularly in the cases of Cam and Jon's father -- is so overblown that you're left not reeling in shock, but shaking your head wondering what the big deal is. Likewise, while I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for some of the book's romantic moments (i.e., rose-colored memories of a first love), others Just Don't Make Sense -- namely, enduring love at first sight between an 18- and 24-year old. Lastly, the conclusion seems muddy and confusing -- as if Siddons either ran out of time to go back and revise her first draft, or just thought that we'd all have read her earlier books, and could figure out what she was getting at on our own.
Yawn. Fluff is fluff, but this enough to make me gorge on Cormac McCarthy for a few weeks.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.