KING'S OAK by Anne Rivers Siddons
Kirkus Star

KING'S OAK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Somehow, it fits perfectly that Siddons' latest Nouvelle Southern Gothic exercise (Peachtree Road, 1988, etc.) should be prefaced with quotes from Robert J. Oppenheimer and Henry Mancini, since the novel is a roiling blend of earnestness and commercialism, sentimentality and sense. Briefly, it's the story of a battered Atlanta doctor's wife, Diana Andropoulis Calhoun, and her emotionally damaged eight-year-old daughter, Hilary, who flee an awful domestic situation to land in the middle of a toxic dump. Diana's college roommate, Tish, introduces her to Pemberton, Georgia--a quiet enclave of the old, rich, horsy set that happens to lie on the doorstep of both the Big Silver Swamp and Stratton-Foumier Atomic Weapons Plant, considered one of the safest in the US. After a soothing, if unexciting, relationship with a Pemberton estate planner, Diana falls under the sexual and emotional spell of Tom Dabney, a kind of intellectual Fess Parker, who, with three other buddies, devotes himself to patrolling the Big Silver woods around his Swiss Family Robinson-ish house on Goat Creek. Hilary, too, thrives as Tom teachers her woodsmanship. But then Diana's suppressed fears about the plant turn into reality, Goat Creek glows in the dark: and deer carcasses reveal grotesque tumors. Tom turns crazy, mounting a one-man crusade against Big Silver. At first, his wildness turns off both Diana and Hilary. But when he unearths the source of the toxic runoff on his uncle Clay's land, Diana steps in to keep Tom from murdering the old man--and moves into the house on Goat Creek for good. Never mind that science tells us toxicity takes thousands of years to wear off or that other plot aspects are patently absurd. As usual, Siddons sucks readers in with her swampish prose, victimized heroine, humid sensuality, and weird array of southern grotesque types. The result is like drinking a dangerous quantity of slow juleps--woozy fare for all those Siddons' fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1990
Publisher: HarperCollins