Part romance, part melodrama, and part Southern family saga, Burnt Mountain is narrated by Thayer Wentworth, whose upbringing by her spiteful mother, Crystal, leaves her rudderless, without any ambition other than to find lasting love. Set in Georgia, summer camp looms large as a theme in this novel, and most of the pivotal points in Thayer’s young life (still in her 20′s) occur there. In the summer before college, she falls in love for the first time with fellow camp counselor Nick Abrams. Thayer becomes pregnant, but when her mother finds out, she forces her into an abortion and sees to it that her inappropriate attachment to Nick abruptly ends. Halfheartedly, Thayer heads off to college, eventually to marry love with her handsome though unconventional professor of Irish folklore, Aengus O’Neill. Initially happy, their relationship begins to come apart when Aengus accepts a summer position as storyteller at Camp Forever on Burnt Mountain.
I enjoyed this story, in which each of the main characters is vividly drawn. Author Siddons has always known how to elicit empathy from her readers, and the vitriolic Crystal and charming Aengus are particularly effective at this. But the plot suffers from a couple of problems, with confusing time frames, enigmatic allusions that are never quite clarified, and a denouement that is highly reliant upon coincidence and, at one point, injects an unnecessary bit of the supernatural into a story that otherwise makes sense. Still, Thayer’s tale is compelling, and a so-so Siddons novel remains at least a couple of notches higher than most of the others in the genre. Well worth reading for its competent prose, interesting characters, and entertainment value.