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J. Courtney Sullivan
- More About Not AvailablePublishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-02-07
- Reviewer: Staff
Holton's (Beach Trip) fourth novel is a carefully fitted nesting doll containing the secrets of one Southern family. Throughout Ava Drabrowski's growing up, her mother constantly kept her on the move, so the adult Ava enjoys her steady paycheck and a place to call home. But when her mother dies, Ava accepts an offer from Will, a college friend, to spend the summer in Tennessee with his elderly aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn. It will be a chance to mourn, but also an opportunity to begin the novel Ava wants to write. The South feels like a different world to her, with its meticulous manners, taboo topics, and five o'clock "Toddy Time," and Ava's favorite taboo topic is the aristocratic Woodburns themselves—but nobody wants to talk about the past. No one, that is, except Jake, Will's estranged cousin, to whom Ava is immediately drawn. What she learns gives her the makings of a great novel, but she also learns that some secrets are better left buried. Ava's struggles with her own past make her a wonderfully grounded narrator for a snapshot of the South as it is today: a region deeply tangled in its own history. (June)BookPage Reviews
Sweetness and secrets
Ava Dabrowski—eight years out of college and satisfied, if not completely happy, with her well-paying job at a Chicago ad agency—has come to a crossroads. An affair with her boss has “wound down to its inevitable conclusion,” her estranged mother has died and her career has come to a standstill. She still harbors dreams of becoming a novelist, so when Will Fraser, an old college friend, invites Ava to spend the summer with his two aunts at the family home in Woodburn, Tennessee—a quiet getaway where she can work on her first novel—she quickly accepts his offer.
Ava and her hippie mother had moved around a lot when she was younger, but she experiences culture shock when she arrives in Woodburn, a town she soon realizes is “broken up into social classes that resembled Victorian England.” Southern author Cathy Holton perfectly captures the slow pace and local customs in which Ava immediately becomes immersed: the leisurely breakfasts, garden party dress codes and Toddy Time, held daily at precisely 5:00 p.m.
The more she learns about Will’s aunts, Josephine and Fanny Woodburn, and the story of the mysterious death of Fanny’s first husband Charlie, Ava realizes she has the plot for her novel. But at what price? Will, who is clearly interested in her as more than a friend, is disturbed by her research into his family’s dark secrets . . . and is even more annoyed by her attentions to his estranged cousin Jake, the black sheep of the Woodburn clan.
Holton delves into the flip side of the “moonlight and magnolias” version of Southern life, as she maintains the suspense surrounding not only the demise of Charlie Woodburn, but which of the dashing cousins Ava will eventually choose. Summer in the South is a winning combination of murder and romance, and an engaging summer read.