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Elegant Kate, walking a tightrope over an abyss of lies...sensitive, sensible, self-contained Cecie...Ginger, the heiress, sexy, vibrant, richer than sin...and poor, hopeless, brilliant Fig--they came together as sorority sisters on a Southern campus in the '60s. Four young women bound by rare, blinding, early friendship--they spend two idyllic spring breaks at Nag's Head, North Carolina, the isolated strip of barrier islands where grand old weatherbeaten houses perch defiantly on the edge of a storm-tossed sea. Now thirty years later, they are coming back. They are coming back to recapture the exquisite magic of those early years...to experience again the love, the enthusiasm, the passion, pain, and cruel-betrayal that shaped the four young girls into women and set them all adrift on the...Outer Banks.
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On the Outer Banks of North Carolina there is a legend about the ships that have come to grief in the great autumn storms off those hungry shoals. Over the centuries there have been many; the Banks have more than earned their reputation as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Most of the graves are in Diamond Shoals, just off the point of Cape Hatteras, but the entire hundred-odd-mile sweep of coast has devoured its measure of wood and flesh. Myths and spectres and apparitions he as thick as sea fog over the Banks, but the one that I have always remembered is the one Ginger Fowler told us all...Cecie, Fig, Paul Sibley, and me...the September of my last year in college, when we were visiting her between quarters.
"They say that whenever a ship is going to go down you can hear something like singing in the wind," she said. "Bankers say it's mermaids, calling the sailors. Lots of them claim to have heard it. It's not like wind or anything. They say when you hear it, you have no choice but to follow it, and you end up on the shoals. A few of the sailors who've been rescued swear to it."
We were sitting on the front veranda of the Fowlers' house on the dunes on Nag's Head beach, watching the twilight die over the Atlantic. On either side of us hulked the great, black-weathered, two- and three-story cottages that made up what the Bankers call the Unpainted Aristocracy -- a long line of huge, weather-stained wooden summer houses that had been built in the early days of the century by the very rich. When they were first built, the houses reigned alone on that lordly line of dunes, owning by sheer force majeure the wild, empty beach. Now they are surrounded by flealike armies of bungalows and time-shares and fishing piers and umbrella and float rentals, like mastodons beset by pygmies. But even now, when you are on the front porches or verandas, you have no sense of the graceless, idiot hordes nibbling at their skirts. Only of wind and sun and emptiness, and the endless sea.
I remember that I felt a small frisson that might have been night wind on sunburned flesh, and reached for Paul's hand. He squeezed it, but did not turn to look at me. He was looking intently at Ginger's sweet, snub face, stained red by the sun setting behind us over Roanoke Sound and by the long, golden days in the sun. Autumn on the Outer Banks is purely a sorcerer's spell: so clear you can see each grain of sand on the great dunes, and bathed in a light that is indescribable. We had stayed on the beach from dawn to sunset for the past four days, and all of us wore the stigmata on our cheeks and shoulders. But Ginger was the red-brown of cast bronze all over. The freckles on her broad cheekbones had merged in a copper mask, and her eyelashes and tow head had whitened. She looked like a piece of Mayan statuary in her faded cotton bathing suit with the boy-cut legs, squat and abundant and solid as the earth.
I thought she looked almost perfectly a piece of the old house and the older coast, but in fact her father had only bought the house two summers before, from an imperious old widow who was going, most reluctantly, to live with her children in Wilmington. Before that Ginger had summered at Gulf Shores, on the Alabama coast, and lived with her family in a small north Alabama town called, appropriately, Fowler. It consisted of a huge textile mill, a mill village and store, and little else, all of which belonged to Ginger's father. The Fowlers; were newly, enormously, and to us, almost inconceivably rich. Ginger worked very hard to conceal the fact, and succeeded so well that until we went to visit her on the Outer Banks, and saw the house, we did not really comprehend it.
Outer BanksBy: Anne Rivers Siddons