Do you have fond memories of summer camp? Or did you write letters like Allan Sherman’s “Hello, Mudder; hello, Fadder…” from Camp Granada? Anne Rivers Siddons bases her latest Southern drama – Burnt Mountain – on camp experiences that change lives – and not as expected.
Siddons’ novels are usually full of elaborate descriptions of Southern living, with detailed attention to the Low Country landscape and the regional characterizations. Burnt Mountain is no exception, offering a view of gracious living, with flawed personalities. Thayer Wentworth, the daughter of a social climbing mother and old-moneyed father, finds refuge in a summer camp after her father suddenly dies in a car accident. After a few summers, she becomes a counselor and meets the handsome young prince from the boys’ camp, Nick Abrams, and they fall in love. After Thayer finds herself pregnant at seventeen, her mother tricks her into an abortion – with dire consequences. Her wealthy grandmother subsidizes Thayer’s college education, and Thayer falls in love with Aengus, the handsome Irish professor of Celtic folklore. They marry and move into Grandma’s house when she dies.
All seems relatively stable, except for Thayer’s haunting nightmares and her husband’s penchant for Celtic magic. Looking for an audience for his storytelling, Aengus finds a receptive group at the local boys’ camp, Camp Forever, and also volunteers for the city’s upcoming Olympic hospitality committee. As Aengus becomes immersed in his work and distances himself from Thayer, Nick Abrams reenters the narrative – now an architect, focused on building housing for the Olympic participants.
Siddons inserts her signature flair for family secrets that undo the best of them – with the theme of living your own life. The resolution has strange otherworldly inferences with Aengus’s abrupt and disconnected descent into a forbidden world. With the weird life-sucking witchcraft at Camp Forever, you may be reminded of Bette Midler in her Halloween role in Hocus Pocus.
Siddons novels are usually easy reads, following an expected formula. Her strength lies in her captivating descriptions with doses of romance in an easy storytelling style that eventually ends in a happily ever after. This ending, however, was not only contrived – it was unbelievable.