Anne Rivers Siddons, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (374p) ISBN 978-0-06-621111-4

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ISLANDS Anne Rivers Siddons . HarperCollins , $24.95 (384p) ISBN 0-06-621111-5

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.)

Reviewed on: 01/05/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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