Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: The Girls of August

By Denise Keliuotis

Women come together for a variety of reasons and in myriad ways. Careers brought the Girls of August together; not their own careers, but those of their husbands. With one exception, the women met in Nashville, Tennessee, where their spouses attended Vanderbilt University Medical School. That first August, Madison, Barbara, Rachel, and Cornelia spent two weeks at a house owned by Cornelia’s family, an impressive homestead perched on the water in Point Clear, Alabama. The August routine stayed consistent for many years, though the women did not: Cornelia lasted just one August, leaving the group when she left her husband, Teddy, for another man. Melinda soon replaced her, and for decades after, the new foursome came together for an August fortnight, holing themselves away in a series of beach-fronted houses across the Southeast.

Until Melinda died tragically. And with her, the August tradition died, too.

The rebirth of the girls’ tradition introduced Baby, Teddy’s young new wife and the owner of the gorgeous island property upon which the novel is set. Each of The Girls of August carries a secret with her on the island – including one who is herself unaware of her own hidden news. The women build and push and eventually break down boundaries as they fight to hide what they cannot share, not at first. And the presence of Baby, an interloper, adds a tension that would ring true to any established group struggling to accept a new person who the longer-standing members truly believe simply does not fit in. Of course, the question hangs in the breeze: Are the women correct – or is there more to Baby than meets the eye?

The Girls of August comes replete with twists and turns, some predictable, but others that made me catch my breath. The plot moves steadily, and the handful of flashbacks Siddons offers are both seamless and well paced, adding graceful layers to the perfectly structured novel.

As I read The Girls of August, I could not help but think of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Something about Siddons’ choices of words brought to mind The Great Gatsby (my all-time favorite novel). I wondered whether this feeling was of my own making – until I came across Siddons’ reference to Fitzgerald’s Daisy, the heroine of The Great Gatsby. I then knew I was in on Siddons’ secret, one I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.

I have only recently discovered the beauty of an Anne Rivers Siddons’ book. I had long seen her titles in bookstores and yet somehow never read any until a month ago, when I stumbled across her novel, The House Next Door. I devoured that book, and when the opportunity arose to review The Girls of August, I could not say “yes” fast enough. I am so glad I did. Siddons style never varies in that it always captivates – once you pick up a book she has authored, you will not easily be able to put it down. Yet, Siddons possesses an enviable skill, an ability to almost imperceptibly alter her style to match the feel of each novel. The stories contained in The House Next Door and The Girls of August are notably different, and Siddons skillfully sets two appropriate moods. Both, however, are memorable; each almost haunting in their own way. Siddons characters and the events in their lives stay with you, and I found myself thinking about the stories for days after I read the final pages. I know her characters and their lives will stay with you, too.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Anne Rivers Siddons:


Janine said...

This sounds like a very interesting book

Grandma Cootie said...

I had forgotten how much I enjoy Anne Rivers Siddons' books. Thanks for a great review that has me going back to catch up.