BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #34: King’s Oak by Anne Rivers Siddons
King’s Oak is a story of its time (late 80s). The heroine, Andy, is a battered wife who has finally gathered the courage to take her daughter and leave her surgeon husband for a new life in the small Southern town of Pemberton. With the support of her old college roommate, Tish, Andy gets a job and tries to make a new life for herself and her deeply damaged daughter Hillary in this wealthy town that revolves around horses and hunting. Unfortunately, Pemberton hides some deep secrets, including a nuclear weapons facility tucked into the woods next door.
Andy is a 60’s liberal who then became an Atlanta housewife, so she is not happy with 1. The nuclear facility 2. The rich people around her 3. Horses 4. Hunting. I found her character to be sanctimonious and more than a little hypocritical and really liked that her best friend Tish would call her on it. Tish was probably my favorite character as she was a fount of wisdom, good sense, and humor. (I always picture Tish as my friend Cara, who grew up in a wealthy part of Connecticut with lots of dogs and horses and would also give you the shirt off her back). As an example of how I found Andy hypocritical: when she was at a Thanksgiving dinner where wild caught game was served, she would only eat the turkey bought at a store.
She winds up in a relationship with Tom Dabney, a severely sexy and massively unhinged man from old money who lives deep in the woods and thinks of himself as a demi-god. He and a group of other men have formed a kind of men’s movement drum circle (note: late 80’s) in which they go naked into the woods wearing wreaths and kill deer and paint themselves with blood and commune with nature because this brings balance back to the woods. Dare I say “white people problems?” Over the course of the book, he goes more and more crazy as it becomes evident that the nuclear facility is leaking into the environment. When he is not being crazy, he is a caring guy who helps Hillary recover from her issues and grow, and gives Andy the push to stand on her own feet (with the occasional heave ho from Tish).
I guess it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book, and that isn’t true at all. I did. It is gorgeously written, with lovely descriptions of the woods and marshes and how it feels to stalk a deer. It’s just that in retrospect, the main characters annoyed me and weren’t people I would really want to hang out with. Siddons is a lush, joyous writer in the great Southern tradition, if you can get past the 1970s level of me-me-me navel gazing among the characters.