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
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