By the #1 bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany and In Tuscany, Swan is a haunting novel set in the deep South -- a resonant tale of long-buried family secrets and mysteries brought suddenly to light.
In her celebrated memoirs of life in Tuscany, Frances Mayes writes masterfully about people in a powerful and shaping place. In Swan, her first novel, she has created an equally intimate world, rich with striking characters and intriguing twists of fate, that hearkens back to her southern roots.
The Masons are a prominent but now fragmented family who have lived for generations in Swan, an edenic, hidebound small town in Georgia. As Swan opens, a bizarre crime pulls Ginger Mason home from her life as an archeologist in Italy: The body of her mother, Catherine, a suicide nineteen years before, has been mysteriously exhumed. Reunited on new terms with her troubled, isolated brother J.J., who has never ventured far from Swan, the Mason children grapple with the profound effects of their mother's life and death on their own lives. When a new explanation for Catherine’s death emerges, and other closely guarded family secrets rise to the surface as well, Ginger and J.J. are confronted with startling truths about their family, a particular ordeal in a family and a town that wants to keep the past buried.
Beautifully evoking the rhythms and idiosyncrasies of the deep South while telling an utterly compelling story of the complexity of family ties, Swan marks the remarkable fiction debut of one of America’s best-loved writers.
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