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Swan: A Novel from the author of Under the Tuscan Sun Paperback – August 26, 2003


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Swan: A Novel from the author of Under the Tuscan Sun + Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir + Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (August 26, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767902866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767902861
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It seems like there's a law that every novel set below the Mason-Dixon Line must feature a family secret, a beautiful dead mother, and a contested paternity. Also, iced tea. Swan, the debut novel from memoirist Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany), is pretty standard stuff. J.J. Mason lives like a hermit in the woods outside the town of Swan, Georgia; his sister Ginger Mason works as an archaeologist in Italy. Their family has been in Swan forever; the whole town mourned when Caroline, Ginger, and J.J.'s mother committed suicide. Now the town joins in shock when Caroline's body is mysteriously and crudely exhumed. Ginger returns from Italy; J.J. comes into town. Over the course of a week in July 1975, and against a backdrop of townspeople, relatives, gossipy old biddies, and mill workers, the siblings explore the dark history of their mother's death. The book is competently done, and Mayes is clearly enjoying her break from the Tuscan sun--she especially seems to enjoy folksy-yet-Gothic Southernisms: "Who'd ever think someone that pretty could up and die? ... Just goes to show how quick it is from can to can't." Despite the book's grisly grave-digging, though, Mayes unearths nothing new. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Combining elements from her own life abroad and at home, Mayes presents her first novel, after a series of wildly popular Italian memoirs (Under the Tuscan Sun, etc.). The author, a Georgia native, has much working in her favor: she's built up a legion of loyal readers through her nonfiction, and this tale which takes place in a Steel Magnolias-like sleepy Southern town offers the tried and true matters of family saga, mystery and Americana. The Mason family has owned cotton mills and other valuable real estate in the town of Swan, Ga. for generations. J.J. and Ginger Mason lost their mother, Catherine, when they were children. Now they are in their early 30s, and Ginger is living where else? in Tuscany, working as an archeologist; J.J. is still in Swan, a sort of reclusive mountain man who spends his days sketching the arrowheads he finds on fishing trips. They're reunited when bad news surfaces: Catherine's body has mysteriously been dug up, 19 years after her death. Ginger flies home, and she and J.J., while at a loss as to whodunit, begin to unearth previously unknown details about their mother's life. With the steady if not necessarily riveting mystery serving as a base plot, Mayes weaves various side stories involving the unfortunate demise of Ginger and J.J.'s father and the fate of their grandfather's mistress, among others. Mayes's writing is smooth and her homespun evocations of the steamy South are moving. And although the story begins to lose its oomph after 200 or so pages, this is a pleasurable read that will please Mayes's devotees.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Frances Mayes has always adored houses, and when she saw Bramasole, a neglected, 200-year old Tuscan farmhouse nestled in five overgrown acres, it was love at first sight. Out of that instant infatuation have come four marvelous, and hugely popular, books: the bestsellers Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, a collaborative photo-textbook with her husband, the poet Edward Mayes, and photographer Bob Krist, and Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy, another collaborative book with Edward Mayes and photographer Steven Rothfeld. All four highly personal books are about taking chances, living in Italy, loving and renovating an old Italian villa, the pleasures of food, wine, gardens, and the "voluptuousness of Italian life." The third book in her Tuscan trilogy, Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life (due out in spring 2010), is about Tuscan seasons and Mayes' reflections on her Italian life. She was awarded the Premio Casato Prime Donne for a major contribution in the field of letters in 2009.

Her first novel, Swan, a family saga and mystery, returns Mayes to her childhood home of Georgia and was published in 2002. A film version of Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane, was released in fall of 2003. Frances Mayes was the editor for the 2002 Best American Travel Writing. She is also the author of the travel memoir entitled A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller, which immediately debuted as a New York Times bestseller in 2006. Working again with Steven Rothfeld, she published Shrines: Images of Italian Worship, also in 2006.

A widely published poet and essayist, Frances Mayes has written numerous books of poetry, including Sunday in Another Country, After Such Pleasures, The Arts of Fire, Hours, The Book of Summer, and Ex Voto. Her work The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems is widely used in college poetry classes. Formerly a professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University, where she directed The Poetry Center and chaired the Department of Creative Writing, Mayes now devotes herself full time to writing, restoring an historic garden and to her "At Home in Tuscany" furniture line at Drexel Heritage. She and her husband divide their time between North Carolina and Cortona, Italy.

Biographical note from Steven Barclay Agency

"Tuscany may have found its own bard in Frances Mayes."
-- The New York Times

Customer Reviews

This book left the reader with too many loose ends.
snowblaze
After starting this book a half dozen times and putting it down, I finally forced myself to finish it.
voraciousreader66
She did a perfect job in her characterization, and her sense of place is phenomenal.
V. Rudd

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By V. Rudd on January 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Being a daughter of the South myself, I can honestly say the characters in this book are uniquely southern. I was constantly going, yes, I know that place -- I pass that on my way home -- I have a friend from there, etc. She did a perfect job in her characterization, and her sense of place is phenomenal. The story itself was very easy to read mostly because it pulled you in and made you interested in what became of these people. The plot was interesting and had enough twists to keep you coming back for more. One thing I loved was Mayes' ability to surprise. I would be reading along, engrossed in the story, when suddenly I would have to back up and reread a portion (usually at the end of a chapter) because what I read couldn't possibly be what she wrote. And yet it always was -- interesting bits about the characters that just got slipped in. Altogether, I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting a good read.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I finished Swan yesterday and her characters are with me still- for me a sure sign of a good novel. The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes is one of my very favorite books. I was interested in how her novel would be. The settings are wonderfully described, brought alive and as I have already indicated, the characters appealing and engrossing. Good read !!
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Swan is truly a wonderful novel. I've been waiting to see what Frances Mayes was going to do with fiction, after the incredible success of her books on Tuscany, of which I'm a big fan. And what's here in Swan is the same incredible writing-that's one of the ingredients, perhaps the main one, that has been the strength of her books for me. Sure, Tuscany is a great place to be, but how she described it and how she described herself changing in relation to what she was doing, that's what has made her books sit among the few I can re-read with great pleasure, almost as if I'm reading them for the first time. Swan is like that too! I just finished it and know I'll be back at it before too long. The story certainly keeps your attention but it's the way the story is told, the language, the writing, that for me was the real pleasure. She has this ability to put the reader right there, as in her Tuscany books. Swan's a truly uplifting novel, a story about coming out of painful discoveries and being changed by them. I'm not from the south, and have only been there briefly, but the characters seemed real to me and the descriptions of the landscape and what they mean to the characters was really well done.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By snowblaze on July 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book left the reader with too many loose ends. There were many mysteries in the story... and too many left unsolved. Yes, it would make for good discussions, but left the individual reader adrift and without any closure.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the hands of the gifted Frances Mayes "Swan" is not simply a small town in Georgia, it is a mode of living, a perception of the world. With this, her first work of fiction, Ms. Mayes who has won both critical and popular approbation for "Under The Tuscan Sun," "In Tuscany" and "Bella Tuscany," takes her place among the nobility of storytellers.
Long residents of the small Georgia community of Swan, the Masons are a prominent pioneer family, the bulwark of this community. Tragedy struck when Catherine Mason took her own life some years ago, leaving two children, J.J. and Ginger, and a desolate husband, Wills, who is now a resident of The Columns, a nursing home. Living half in the present and half in the past Wills sometimes recognizes family and sometimes he does not.
Although both J.J. and Ginger have survived this tragedy they were wounded, and "each of them began to develop the clever barricades against memory that would become their personalities and characters."
J.J. has become a reclusive dweller at the family's lakeside cabin, spending his days fishing and keeping logs of his observations and activities. Ginger has sought release as an archaeologist in Italy, where she has found love with Marco.

Lily, daughter of the family patriarch who raised the two children, is paying her regular visit to the Mason family plot at Magnolia Cemetery when she is shocked to find that Catherine's grave has been violated and her body unearthed.
Thus, J.J. and Ginger are reunited in Swan, forced to face the disheartening news of their mother's exhumation and to relive the dreadful days following her suicide some 19 years earlier.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Avellanet VINE VOICE on April 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll admit that I didn't really get into the story until about page 110 or so, but at that point, I couldn't put the book down. The writing is very well done, and Ms. Mayes has many turns of phrases, or little descriptions, that so capture the romantic part of the South, that it makes the story all the more enjoyable. And the ending is absolutely beautiful. Just excellent. I can't imagine a better ending, especially since you so sincerely care about the two main characters - J.J. and Ginger.

A couple of points for the prospective reader:

1. This really isn't about a mystery, it's about the impact of a mother's suicide has upon her grown children and their relationships.

2. If you read this expecting a mystery that will keep you up all night, you'll be sorely disappointed.

3. Recognize that this presents the rural South in the 1970s from the standpoint of the white middle class; you'll have to work hard to find any mention or hint of discrimination or race relations, so if you're looking for a fuller portrait, this is not the book for you.

4. The last half of the story - it's pacing, the story's evolution, etc., more than make up for what I felt was a bit of a slow beginning.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable book - one well worth reading.
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