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Summer in the South: A Novel Hardcover – May 24, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from Author Cathy Holton

Almost twenty years ago, I went with my good friend Randal to visit her great-aunt Fanny in the sleepy little town of Franklin, Tennessee. Or at least it was sleepy then, before the country stars of Nashville discovered it. Randal, it seemed, was from a very old, prominent Southern family and Great-Aunt Fanny’s home was a suitably impressive mansion standing on a street of equally impressive old homes a few blocks from the town square.

Fanny was a lovely woman, intelligent, lively, and much younger-looking than her seventy-some-years would indicate. There were photographs of her everywhere, dressed in riding clothes for a fox hunt, standing beside a camel in the Egyptian desert, drinking cocktails on the Riviera. Standing at her side in all the photos was her large, florid-faced husband who had died some years back. The sprawling house was filled with antique silver and furniture, oil paintings of long-dead ancestors, and priceless historical artifacts, including a framed letter from Thomas Jefferson written to one of Fanny’s ancestors.

As a lover of history, I was fascinated by the house and the family. I was also fascinated by Fanny’s circle of friends, an equally lively group of women who had been educated at Vanderbilt in the twenties and who still clung to the time-honored tradition of cocktail hour. These women spoke in a deep, cultured accent so often attempted, and yet so rarely achieved, by movie actors trying to portray the Old South. They were gracious and welcoming and within five minutes, by use of a few deft questions, knew everything there was to know about my background and the kind of “people” I came from.

I felt like I had stepped into a Faulkner novel. (One of Fanny’s cousins had known Faulkner in Paris. She had not been impressed.) This feeling increased when, the next day, Randal and I accompanied Fanny to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves of the dead. Noting Fanny’s reverent attention to a grave set apart from the others, I asked, “Who’s buried there?”

Randal hesitated. “Fanny’s husband.”
“The one in all the photos?”
“No. That was her second husband. The one buried over there is her first husband. Charlie.”
“What happened to him?”
“We don’t speak of him,” Randal said.

True to her Southern upbringing, I couldn’t get a word out of her. There were no photos of him in the house. It was as if he had never existed. That evening as I lay in a four- poster bed in a moonlit room waiting for Charlie’s ghost to appear, I remembered Fanny’s tender expression as she bent to tend the grave of a man dead for over sixty years. And I wondered what could have happened to him, what could have happened between him and Fanny, that would keep her family from ever mentioning his name.

Twenty years later, I wrote Summer in the South. Was the love affair between Charlie and Fanny truly as I envisioned it? Did the things that happened to me there in that old house in Franklin really happen, or did I just dream them?

The answers to both questions, I suppose, lie clearly in the realm of fiction.

From Publishers Weekly

Holton's (Beach Trip) fourth novel is a carefully fitted nesting doll containing the secrets of one Southern family. Throughout Ava Drabrowski's growing up, her mother constantly kept her on the move, so the adult Ava enjoys her steady paycheck and a place to call home. But when her mother dies, Ava accepts an offer from Will, a college friend, to spend the summer in Tennessee with his elderly aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn. It will be a chance to mourn, but also an opportunity to begin the novel Ava wants to write. The South feels like a different world to her, with its meticulous manners, taboo topics, and five o'clock "Toddy Time," and Ava's favorite taboo topic is the aristocratic Woodburns themselves-but nobody wants to talk about the past. No one, that is, except Jake, Will's estranged cousin, to whom Ava is immediately drawn. What she learns gives her the makings of a great novel, but she also learns that some secrets are better left buried. Ava's struggles with her own past make her a wonderfully grounded narrator for a snapshot of the South as it is today: a region deeply tangled in its own history. (June)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345506014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345506016
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #184,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Become a Fan of Cathy Holton on Facebook for free excerpts, giveaways, "character" interviews and more. Follow her at and on Twitter.

Cathy Holton continues to entertain readers with her stories of strong, intelligent women trying to survive in an often hostile world. The Boston Globe says "Holton has a lively, fluid style that shifts easily among the viewpoints' of several characters and goes down as easily as sweet tea," while Entertainment Weekly calls her prose "Sharp, witty, and warm." Although grateful for the critical praise, it is the enthusiastic response of readers who tell her they "laughed, cried, and let dinner burn" while reading one of her novels that inspires her most.

The author of five novels, Cathy lives in Tennessee with her husband and a rescue dog named Yoshi.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Holly TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is Cathy Holton's fourth novel and the second one I have read by her. I read "Beach Trip" when it first was published and enjoyed it quite a bit, but liked this one even better. Based upon two such positive experiences, I really need to go back and read both of the Kudzu Debutante books.

The year is 1931 and the location is Woodburn, Tennessee. The reader is introduced to Josephine as she identifies a body in the Purdy Funeral Home (which also serves as a morgue) as that of Charles Woodburn who has been recovered from the river. As the story unfolds we find out just who these two people are and how they are related. We then move forward to 1998 and Ava Debrowski takes center stage as we discover that things aren't going well for this young professional woman from Chicago. The end of a love affair, the dissatisfaction with her job, and a desire to finally write that novel she has always meant to write all propel her to accept the invitation of a college friend to spend the summer in small-town Tennessee. Her friend Will moved back to his hometown after they graduated from Bard and he lives near his elderly, but spry, great aunts (one of whom is the aforementioned Josephine) - they live in a huge house in town and he out on the family farm. This is an old family with both money and lots of secrets. The remainder of the book explores Ava's past with her eccentric mother, the relationship she has with Will, and all the secrets the Woodburn family has tried so hard to keep buried.

This is a wonderful book that has some overtones of historical fiction, intrigue, and just a touch of romance (not enough to overpower the book, just enough to keep it interesting).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. August VINE VOICE on May 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you have had the pleasure of reading the works of southern American authors such as Harper Lee, Truman Capote (short stories) and William Faulkner, there is a classic theme, which draws in readers. We become keen observers of a definitive way of life, detailed in ancestral history and a class system. Cathy Holton has written her best novel to date as she embraces her knowledge of veiled Southern aggression.

The setting is in the near present in a small town in Tennessee. Ava, a product of a single mother, is invited to spend the summer in the hometown of her college friend, Will Fraser and his two great aunts, Josephine and Franny. Fleeing from Chicago with her mother's ashes in an urn, she has hopes of writing a novel. The Woodburn family offers her hospitality (good ol' Southern) in their large home filled with family antiques and secrets.

Ava becomes enthralled with their family history after learning of the black sheep who had married Fanny and the prevailing philosophy of never airing the Family linen. Overtly polite and solicitous, Will and his family welcome her into their home and she becomes part of their daily rituals. She is included in their meals but more importantly, she becomes a member of Toddy Time. Not using the words Cocktail Hour, the aunts and Fanny;s husband, Maitland and other invitees take pleasure in Maitland's ability to stir up interesting drinks. Daily Toddy Time lasts about one hour but Holton reinforces heavier drinking at barbeques and other house parties. No one seems to be able to function without a drink, especially Ava.

We are introduced to the "black" side of the family in the version of handsome, cousin Jake.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ava Dabrowski is still mourning the death of her mother, reeling from the breakup with her married lover and disenchanted with her job. So when Will Fraser, an old college acquaintance, asked her one more time to visit him in Woodburn, Tennessee, she quits her job in Chicago and accepts even though she has some not too flattering preconceived notions of "The South". He lures her with the idea that she can stay with his two great-aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn, in the family home for the entire summer and finally work on that novel she keeps wanting to write.

Unfortunately, Ava seems to have a bad case of writer's block and she doesn't make too much progress on her book but she is fascinated by the Woodburn's family history as her own family history is sketchy at best and staying in one location was not one of her free-spirited mother's strengths. She is amazed that one family could live in a town named after them for so long and in the same house. To the Woodburns living in the South means no one is "crazy" just eccentric, manners are an ingrained way of life and knowledge of one's family tree is almost de riguer.

What seems like genteel family living turns out to have some deep buried secrets and dark undertones. After Ava starts hearing snippets of Will's Aunt Fanny and her first husband Charlies' past, the mystery of his death begins to intrigue her and her writer's block is at an end. It's almost as if the story writes itself; she spends night after night penning Charlie and Fanny's story at a frenzied pace even though she knows the Woodburns will be livid at any hint of exposure. They sure aren't willing to say too much about this time in their lives.

I don't want to give away too much more of the story.
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