Pat Conroy to Anne Rivers Siddons: “That’s the Opening of Your Great Book. . .”

Anne Rivers Siddons.

From the obituary, by Richard Sandomir, of novelist Anne Rivers Siddons in the 9/13/19 New York Times:

Anne Rivers Siddons, whose popular novels, set largely in the South, took female characters on emotional journeys that touched on the region’s racial and social attitudes, died on Wednesday at her home in Charleston, S.C. She was 83. . . .

Ms. Siddons had been an advertising copywriter and a magazine writer when she started writing novels in the 1970s. Her breakthrough, “Peachtree Road” (1988), was a generational saga about Atlanta’s evolution since World War II, told through two cousins.

Ms. Siddons was urged by her friend the writer Pat Conroy to write a novel that would reflect her ambivalence about Atlanta, her adopted home. She had long admired the city’s vigor but felt that its relentless growth had gone too far.

“As Ms. Siddons offered argument after argument about why she couldn’t do the book,” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote in 1988, “she mentioned that a woman friend of hers had just died. ‘The South killed her the day she was born; it just took her that long to die.’”

Hearing that, Mr. Conroy told her, “That’s the opening of your great book about Atlanta.”

It was indeed the first line of the prologue in “Peachtree Road,” in which she replaced “she” with the name of a lead character, Lucy Bondurant Chastain Venable.

“Peachtree Road” invited comparisons to “Gone With the Wind,” an earlier sweeping novel with Atlanta as its backdrop. In his review in The Journal and Constitution, Bob Summer wrote that Ms. Siddons had evoked the city as well as Margaret Mitchell had.

He added, “Ms. Siddons skillfully weaves bright threads of humor, nuance and an exacting observation of the social mores of the times she is writing about; surely she is the Jane Austen of modern Atlanta.” . . .

Ms. Siddons came to understand that her desire to write was a reaction to her traditional upbringing.

“The South is hard on women,” she told People, “partly because of the emphasis on looks and charm. No matter what I did, I always ended up with this hollow feeling. It finally hit me.

“That’s why I wrote: I am writing about the journey we take to find out what lives in that hole.”

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