Nora, Nora

Anne River Siddons

Nora, Nora.

"The Losers Club met every weekday afternoon at four o'clock in the toolshed behind Methodist parsonage on the corner of Peyton McKenzie's street.  Peyton would be out of her seventh-grade classes at the Lytton Grammar School and sometimes through her homework by then; her father would be cloistered away in the study he had fixed up for himself over the garage behind the elephantine McKenzie house on Green Street; and Clothilde would be grumbling to herself and moving ponderously about the kitchen preparing supper for them.  Peyton would not be required of man or woman for at least another two hours.  She would have shed her school clothes and carefully stored them in her nunlike closet, and skimmed gratefully into her soft, faded, milk-blue jeans, or flapping cotton boxer shorts and a T-shirt in the summer, looking like a starved pullet, all frail, air-light bones and translucent razor angles."

Peyton McKenzie is twelve as the book Nora, Nora, by Anne Rivers Siddons, opens.  It's a slightly different selection for the review this month.  By no stretch of the imagination is this great literature; it has, however, its fair share of compelling descriptions and characters, and is a cut above this author's usual offering.  It's a pleasant read for a lazy late summer day, this tale of a young girl's encounter and involvement with her cousin Nora, and the part Nora plays in Peyton's growing up in a small, quiet, southern town in 1961.

"The first thing you noticed about Nora Findlay, Peyton thought, was that she gave off heat, a kind of sheen, like a wild animal, except that hers was not a dangerous ferality, but an aura of sleekness and high spirits.  There was a padding, hip-shot prowl to her walk, and she moved her body as if she were totally unconscious of it, as if its suppleness and sinew were something she had lived with all her life.  She was tall and a little stooped, with long tanned legs and the same blur of coppery freckles on her arms that her face wore.  With her slanted yellow-green eyes and thick, tumbled red hair, Peyton thought she looked like some sort of wildcat: a leopard, a ruddy puma, a cheetah.  She had a long Roman nose and a full mouth and small, soft breasts obviously free of any restraint; you could see the nubs of her nipples under the T-shirt she wore.  Peyton averted her eyes, but it never seemed to occur to Nora Findlay that her breasts, fettered or otherwise, were matters for concern."

In another brief excerpt, Peyton and Nora encounter a sit-in at a deli in Atlanta:

"Are we going in there?" Peyton squeaked.  She had heard, vaguely, of sit-ins, but they seemed to have as much relevancy to her world as the practice of suttee.  She did know, however, that people went to jail for sitting in.  Why, she could not quite remember.

"I thought we might.  I think it would be good for you to see how the other half of your country lives.  Besides, it's the right thing to do."

Nora comes into Peyton's life at a time of transition in the younger girl's growing.  Like all Siddons' female characters, Nora has her secrets, secrets from her past that Peyton eventually comes to know, and to blurt out in a moment of desperation and despair. When the truth comes to light, it stuns the residents of Lytton, but also teaches Peyton the enormous cost of loving – and the necessity of doing it anyway.  Nora, Nora may not be great literature, but it's a novel with a story to tell about human frailties and foibles, and about growing up.  Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.