Summer camps play a pivotal role in the life of a young Atlanta heiress.
Thayer Wentworth has always been a disappointment to her mother, Crystal. Tomboyish, and too much like Crystal’s distrusted mother-in-law, Caroline, known as “Grand,” Thayer yearns for the life of the mind. In this Thayer resembles her father Finch, an educator, who died in an accident en route from a camp on Burnt Mountain. Grand, who refused to grant Crystal (a shopkeeper’s daughter) entree to Atlanta’s aristocratic Buckhead set, clearly favors Thayer over her more frivolous older sister Lily. When Grand moves into Crystal’s house after Finch dies, she grooms Thayer to inherit her father’s rarified legacy. First, there’s a counselorship at Sherwood Forest, an exclusive girls’ camp, where Thayer meets Nick Abrams, counselor at a nearby boys’ camp. The two fall madly in love and vow to marry, however when Nick departs for Europe, Thayer learns she is pregnant. Nick never writes or phones as he promised, and Thayer is tricked by Crystal into having an abortion. After a difficult physical and emotional recovery, Thayer attends Sewanee University at Grand’s urging, and there she meets and weds Celtic mythology professor Aengus. Crystal and Grand are no more thrilled about the Irish Aengus than they were about the Jewish Nick, however Grand is at least supportive. After a shocking betrayal (Crystal tells Aengus that the abortion left Thayer sterile), a permanent mother-daughter rift results. Grand dies, leaving Thayer and Aengus a rustic fieldstone house in a wooded Atlanta suburb. At first life is blissful, but then a local corrupt politician flatters Aengus into propagating Celtic lore at a boys’ camp (which churns out the Atlanta equivalent of Stepford Teens) that's located, ominously enough, on Burnt Mountain. Suddenly Aengus’ seemingly benign Celtic obsession turns into something menacing and Michael Flatley–like.
Siddons is at her usual incisive best at skewering the mores of socially pretentious Southerners, and her prose is limpid and mesmerizing, but the grand gignol denouement beggars belief.