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

3.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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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.
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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #930,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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By Kenlah0406 on February 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a fan of Frances Mayes and have loved and read all of her books on Tuscany and travel several times. This book did not live up to my high expectation of Mayes' writing. The plot was slow and almost non-existent. There was nothing really driving it. Granted a body being dug up and a gravestone being vandalized is a bit of drama, but not a reason to fly home from Italy or halt everyone's life. It was slow reading and the character development was lacking, probably because there were too many characters. The relationship between Ginger and JJ wasn't realistic and even inappropriate at times. I kept waiting for everything to come together and for it all to make sense. The ending was anti-climactic to say the least. Several times I wanted to stop reading and then I got to the end and was left thinking is this all there is?
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By A Customer on July 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
Mayes' writing is utterly beautiful. If you love language as only a poet can deliver, well-drawn characters you're unlikely to forget, and a story that pulls you in from the very beginning, don't miss this lovely, haunting novel.
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Format: Kindle Edition
As I started reading the book it was slow going until about one third into it. The descriptions of the various characters in Swan was charming and interesting. Two thirds into the book it became a bit maudlin, trite and cliched. The ending left me feeling that there was unfinished business that had not been addressed. I was disappointed and felt let down.
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