Nora, Nora

Anne Rivers Siddons, Author, None, Author HarperCollins Publishers $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-017613-6
Siddons pulls off another smoothly written novel with ingratiating ease, despite an unpromising beginning. Readers may fear they're in the realm of the hackneyed reflections of To Kill a Mockingbird and A Member of the Wedding when they're introduced to 12-year-old, ""thin, frail, queer and nervous"" Peyton McKenzie. In the seventh grade in Lytton, Ga., Peyton has ""no friends of her own age and gender,"" and spends her free time in the parsonage tool shed with 34-year-old Ernie Longworth, eccentric, erudite sexton and grave keeper of the Methodist church. The third member of their Losers Club is eight-year-old Boot, the handicapped grandson of Chloe, the McKenzies' black housekeeper. Peyton considers herself the consummate ""loser"" because her mother died the day after she was born, and her cool, distant father seems to hold Peyton responsible. When a beautiful red-haired stranger blows into town in a Thunderbird coup , this too seems tritely familiar. Outspoken Nora Findlay, a distant cousin who smokes, drinks and doesn't wear a bra, is clearly out to shock the morally conservative community. Though Siddons doesn't deliver any thematic surprises in this well-worn genre, she does offer a neatly competent and engrossing story that captures the reader's sympathies despite its quality of d j vu, as she conjures up the social and racial attitudes of a small Southern town in the 1960s. Nora enthralls an initially reluctant Peyton, working magic on the girl's appearance, self-confidence, intellectual curiosity and moral vision, even as she scandalizes everyone else in town. But daredevil Nora is secretly vulnerable, as Peyton learns when her cousin confesses the heavy emotional burden she carries. Eventually, both Nora and Peyton experience the anguish of betrayal. In addition to her impeccable re-creation of Southern speech and atmosphere, Siddons captures the angst of adolescence with practiced skill, and she handles the rising drama of her plot so smoothly that the book has all the marks of bestsellerdom. Agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh at the Writers Shop. 250,000 first printing; author tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
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