A long southern psychological novel, extending from WW II to the present, about well-to-do Atlanta families and their trials and tribulations. Siddons' (Homeplace, Fox's Earth) Atlanta is more the legacy of Rhett Butler than Ashley Wilkes: its business leaders are forward-thinking and pragmatic; they support the civil-rights movement, bowing to the inevitable for the sake of prosperity; they count the ability to make money equally as important as blue-blood descent. However, the Bondurant family has more than a whiff of rotting magnolias about it. Our hero, Shep Bondurant, is seven years old (and still sleeping with an open door to his parents' room, where he hears them copulating in rage and hatred) when his six-year-old cousin Lucy comes to live with them. Tempestuous and yet appealing, a born leader, Lucy both frees Shep (somewhat) from his smothering mother and enslaves him with her own charm, madness, and need. For the next 40 years, the beautiful, enchanting Lucy controls and manipulates the lives of her cousin, husband, and daughter ""with the awful power of the weak over the strong"" as she descends into addiction, scandal, paranoia, and insanity. She wrecks sensitive Shep's engagement, drives one husband to criminal violence, another into debt and depression, and nearly destroys her daughter (who, in tree gothic fashion, may be Shep's child, not her husband's). Peripheral characters don't fare much better: Shep's father has a stroke and lingers, mindless, for 20 years in an upstairs wing attended by his grasping sister-in-law, while a family friend sinks into dementia after his only son commits suicide over a closet homosexual affair. Shep himself becomes a recluse, writing a long obscure history book and emerging only after dark to go jogging past sites of his long-ago happy adolescence. In the end, there's an upbeat and slightly improbable resolution to all this gloom. Pull-you-along melodrama of a city and its ruling class.