"A heartbreaking tale of keeping family secrets..."
Reviewed by Svetlana Libenson
Posted July 18, 2018
Coming of Age | Contemporary | Women's Fiction
Tallulah Mae James has had a very unconventional childhood; from
birth to 1960s she and her four siblings have been reared by a
traditional Southern grandmother while her parents, Margo and Drayton
could care less about what happens to their family and traditions that
the grandmother attempts to instill. Tired of her family's dysfunction,
Tallulah leaves her town for what she hopes would be forever. However,
when Tallulah's youngest brother, Walden, gets arrested, Tallulah is
forced to come back to her staid town in Mississippi and face the
demons that have haunted her for many years.
From cradle to grave, the importance of individualism and in hiding
one's "dirty" laundry or secrets has been instilled in countless
generations all over the world. People are taught to keep a stiff upper
lip, to ask for help only when absolutely necessary, and most
importantly of all, to keep family secrets within a small circle of
relatives, making sure these secrets never leave borders and leaving
the current generation with very little to fall back on.
Beautiful, stark and heartbreaking, THE
MYTH OF PERPETUAL SUMMER by Susan Crandall dares to
examine the idea of what happens from one generation to another
when family members keep secrets to themselves rather than sharing
them with others, and the consequences are tragic in terms of effects
on family members as they each begin to wrestle with their own fears
and desires in realistic ways.
What I also really loved is that THE
MYTH OF PERPETUAL SUMMER focuses a lot on more
grandmother/granddaughter relationships which is pretty unique for a
story because most of the stories I read often have child/parent
relationships. This one though, there is a relationship between a sister
and her brothers as well as between a granddaughter and her
grandmother. Ultimately though, THE
MYTH OF PERPETUAL SUMMER asks, is having a proud name
worth it when you are being destroyed by the inside?
From the national bestselling author of Whistling
Past the Graveyard comes a moving coming-of-age tale set
in the tumultuous sixties that harkens to both Ordinary
Grace and The Secret Life of Bees.
Tallulah Jamesâ€™s parentsâ€™ volatile relationship, erratic
behavior, and hands-off approach to child rearing set
tongues to wagging in their staid Mississippi town,
complicating her already uncertain life. She takes the
responsibility of shielding her familyâ€™s reputation and
raising her younger twin siblings onto her youthful shoulders.
If not for the emotional constants of her older brother,
Griff, and her old guard Southern grandmother, she would be
lost. When betrayal and death arrive hand in hand, she takes
to the road, headed to what turns out to be the
not-so-promised land of Southern California. The dysfunction
of her childhood still echoes throughout her scattered
family, sending her brother on a disastrous path and drawing
her home again. There she uncovers the secrets and lies that
set her family on the road to destruction.
ExcerptThe Myth of Perpetual Summer Excerpt
I kneel in front of the small black-and-white television, my
face close to the screen. My body is robbed of breath as the
words of the newscaster cuts through a thick fog of shock. A
mug shot appears. Blood rushes hot and my head goes fuzzy.
Now grown and far too thin, that face still holds a distinct
echo of the boy I so loved. My brother Waldenâ€¦lost to me for
years, now labeled a killer.
Memories as thick as the air and mud and secrets of our
Mississippi childhood sit heavy on my skin. Even though my
three siblings are scattered, miles away and years out of
mind, they dwell in a place as deep inside me as my own
heart. Perhaps our extraordinary bond comes from the strain
of madness that runs in our blood, the love and hate
tangling until they're braided into an unbreakable rope, a
lifeline and a noose.
As far as I have run, as many times as I have reinvented
myself, my childhood has snaked through time and wrapped
around my throat.
Have I been a fool to hope that at least one of us survived
It's time to admit that, perhaps, the blood that knotted
love and hate may have, in the end, may have made murderers
of us all.
I delude myself into thinking that I am where I am today
because of clear choices and controlled decisions. In the
chaos of my childhood, that's all I dreamed about, power
over my own life. But in the dark of night when I lie alone
in my apartment in Pacific Heights, shrouded by mist and
distant foghorns, I'm forced to admit I am only a seed. At
first blown to Los Angeles on the wind of someone else's
dream, and then rooting in San Francisco, where I was
dropped by a different someone. But I have rooted well.
That, at least, is my doing.
Yesterday, after the newscast that named my brother a
murderer, I called my boss at the Buckman Foundation. I'm in
charge of public relations; a position gained by tenacity,
dedication and, admittedly, the fact that Mr. Capstone likes
me. That job is my whole lifeâ€”and I'm not using it as a turn
The Buckmans are old money. Even in the progressive
atmosphere of California, old money is just as prideful and
unbending as it was in the South. Fortunately, James is a
common last name so Mr. Capstone, who never misses a morning
or evening news broadcast, didn't make the connection when I
requested time off for a family emergency. His tone was
concern laced with what sounded like surprise that I even
have a family. He assured me Keith and Stan are happy to
step up while I'm gone. Which is not a comfort. They both
believe a woman has as much business being an executive,
junior or otherwise, as a monkey. They're continually
looking for ways to kick the ladder out from under me and
leave me hanging by my fingernails.
My life, perfect and organized just yesterday morning, is
now a tangle of worry and uncertainty. On the flight, I made
a list in my current sketchbook of the scarce, yet
disturbing, details I've discovered about Walden's
situation. As I walk through the New Orleans airport, a
group of three shaved-head, white-robed Hare Krishnas step
in front of me, flowers and pamphlets extended in their
pale, bony hands. Even though my home city is full of such
groups, I've never paused to really study those selling
street-corner prophecies. Now that Walden's name has been
linked with The Scholars of Humanityâ€”a group with a leader
being investigated by a now-murdered journalist and a
compound deep in the Louisiana swampsâ€”I pause to look deeply
into their eyes, searching for what ignites their doubtless
devotion. But all I see are lost children who consider
themselves enlightened, saved and saving others.
I empathize, I do. After all I was a lost child, too.
I think about Sharon Tate. Although I only met her once, the
news of Manson's butcherers shook me to the core. The girls
who did the killing, delusional and brainwashed, devoted to
a madman, singing like children and dressing like
schoolgirls throughout their trial.
And now my own brother is accused of a crime nearly as
I don't know how he could be capable of such a thing.
But you do know, don't you? Just like they say back home,
blood always tells.
Even under the canopy of anciet trees, the heat is
oppressive in the historic Garden District of New Orleans.
The slightly sour smell of humidity-laden fallen vegetation
teases my nose. The stately old houses with their deep
porches and floor to ceiling double-hung windows are closed
up, no doubt cool and serene on the inside. I hear the soft
burble of a splashing fountain in one of the gardens
concealed behind an aged brick wall and wrought iron gate,
creating an illusion of relief from the heat. In defiance of
appearing weak and ordinary, even the wisteria refuses to wilt.
The irony isn't lost on me as I stand in front of the
double-ironwork gate in front of Ross Saenger's home seeking
his family's wealth and power to save my brother. The wealth
and power I resentedâ€”as I'd resented Ross himselfâ€”so deeply
and for so long. My sketchbook listing the meager facts is
tucked in my tote, and a much longer list of appeals and
entreaties piles up in my head. I am ready to beg. On my
knees if necessary.
I do not look forward to this reunion. But this is about
what Walden needs, not my wounds and grudges. Truth be, I
cannot blame Mrs. Saenger for what happened in sixty-three.
It was her kindness that saved our familyâ€”right before it
tore us apart.
I feel a little faint and wish I'd pulled my hair into a
long ponytail at the nape of my neck. I'd forgotten how
Southern air coats the skin and weighs the lungs, how the
stillness carries its own mass. I regret my polyester
double-knit vested pantsuit and long for the yellow cotton
sundress of my youth. Nausea grips my empty stomach and I
want to turn away. But this is Walden's best hope.
The grandure of this house stands out, even in this
neighborhood, two-and-a-half stories of brick solidity and
symmetry tucked behind an iron fence and a tall, carefully
sculpted hedge. Porches span the front of the house on both
floors, trimmed in turned posts and filigreed ironwork.
Marshalling myself, I open the gate, cross the walk and
climb the marble steps. I stare at the black door and study
the beautiful leaded glass transom over it. I set down my
suitcase beside a shiny black ceramic pot filled with red
geraniums and ring the bell, desperate to get out of the
heat. It hits me, stupidly and belatedly, that Mrs. Saenger
might not be home. The street is quiet, the only sound the
ever-present whirr of cicadas in the ancient trees. I regret
my haste in letting the cab go.
As I wait, the drumbeat of my desperate heart scatters my
carefully laid out words like starlings from a wire. I must
slow down my thoughts or else babble like a madwoman when
Mrs. Saenger appears.
But when the door swings open, it isn't Mrs. Saenger. It's
Ross. And thought ceases altogether.
"Goodâ€”" His arresting blue eyes are pleasantly expectant, as
if he's anticipating a neighbor or a friend. He's even
taller and broader-shouldered than when I last saw him in
sixty-three, his light brown hair longer.
My mouth opens, but nothing comes out. I'm thirteen and
tongue-tied. I'm sixteen and broken.
His expression slowly morphs into surprise. "Tallulah James?
Oh my God, is that you?"
"Hello, Ross." My vision is getting gray around the edges.
He thought I was dead?
"Iâ€¦there's beenâ€¦." I feel myself listing to one side, the
grayness pushing deeper into my vision. I'd prepared myself
to face Mrs. Saenger. Not him.
My knees wobble.
He reaches out and takes my elbow. "Come in out of the
heat." He plucks my gold suitcase off the porch and guides
me inside. "You look like you could use something cold to
drink. Have a seat in the living room and I'll bring
something. Coke? Tea?" He lets go of my elbow in careful
stages, as if he's afraid I'll collapse.
"Just water, please." I barely feel my feet as I move into a
room that screams old money: crystal chandelier, matching
chintz sofas (tastefully worn and inviting), oil portraits
of ancestors, carved marble fireplace, gleaming silver on
the bar cart, and fine, thick area rugs underfoot. This
place is just as I'd imagined it when I was hating my older
Griff for abandoning me to live here. A perfect life. A
movie set. Not with me where he'd promised to be.
When Ross returns with the glasses of water, I practically
down mine in one gulp.
He sits on the sofa opposite me and settles his elbows on
his knees, linking his hands between them. I have trouble
looking directly at him. He's a man now, but I can still see
the boy I pined over. And I feel that old burn of resentment.
He says, "For the past nine years, I've imagined the worst.
It's quite a relief to see you alive and well." The note of
judgment in his tone raises my hackles.
I take a slow breath. "I am quite well, thank you. I've made
a good life for myself." Alone. On my own. No thanks to you
or Griff or my grandmother.
"You could have called to let us know you were okay. Griff
was out of his mind with worry," Ross says.
Griff made his choice. Just as Granny James made hers. Only
Margo's abandonment wasn't a surprise, she just lived up to
"I left a note so no one would think I'd been abducted by
aliens or alligator poachers." The look on his face tells me
my attempt at lightening the mood fell flat. "Honestly, I'm
surprised Griff even knew I was gone. Besides, he's hardly
in a position to complain about someone disappearing." I'm a
little shocked at my own counter-productive childishness.
"He didn't disappear," Ross says. "He was right here. And
you knew it."
"So, where is he now?" I imagine him all ivy-league educated
on the Saenger's charity, living well, with a wife and
adoring children. He can probably help Walden better than I.
Ross holds my gaze. "I have no idea where he is."
I blink. "What?"
He leans forward, his shoulders holding the set of bad news.
"He was never the same after everything that happened in
Lamoyneâ€”your dad, the accusations. After his high school
graduation in sixty-five he packed his things and left in
the middle of the night. Broke my mom's heart."
Cold fear creeps up my spine. All this time, I imagined him
in the loving arms and stability of the Saengers, part of a
happy family. "You have no idea where he went? He never
"No. Must be a James family trait." There is bitterness in
"Hey! I might owe Walden and Dharma, but I'm not going to
apologize to you for the choices I made!"
He raises his palms to me. "Fair enough."
I remind myself I'm here as a beggar. "I actually came to
see your mother. Is she here?"
I wait, but he doesn't elaborate. "Will she be home soon?"
"No. She and Dad died three years ago. Car accident."
"Oh, Ross. I'm so sorry. I had no idea." I've kept
everything about home frozen in time. And, I realize, I've
been deliberately not thinking of the possibility that some
people may be gone. What about Gran? My beloved Maisie?
"Of course you didn't. Because you didn't let anyone know
where you were."
"I came to ask herâ€”now you, I supposeâ€”for help." He stiffens
slightly, so I'm quick to add, "Not for me. For Walden. He's
in serious trouble. I didn't know where else to turnâ€”"
"I saw the news."
"Do you think your mother's cousin Sam will be willing to
help? He did so much for Griff. Or maybe he can recommend
another lawyer? I don't want Walden left in the hands ofâ€¦of
aâ€”" Suddenly, I smell my little brother's baby shampoo, feel
his hand in mine, recall the trusting way he looked at me.
"A c-court appointed lawyer."
I feel clammy. I reach for the glass of water, only to
discover it's empty.
Ross stands and hands me his. "Here. I haven't touched it."
As I take a grateful drink, the obvious occurs to me. "I
suppose you can recommend someone, being a lawyer yourself."
Please don't let him offer to take the case. Who knows what
the fallout would be?
He gives me a smile that tickles a memory of the way he used
to make me feel. "I'm not a lawyer."
"I thought it was a foregone conclusion." The phrase springs
from the past.
His eyes soften. "Good memory. As it turns out, I bucked the
family expectations and became a psychiatrist."
"Didn't know you were even interested in psychiatry."
"Circumstances spurred it."
"Oh." I shift uncomfortably, suddenly feeling as if I'm
under a microscope. "Sam, then? Do you think he'll help?"
"I already called him. His calendar is full, and Walden's
case will be time-consuming. But his daughter Amelia is
willing." He must see the concern on my face because he
adds, "Unlike me, she's always wanted to be a lawyer. She's
I have reservations. And I'm ashamed to admit one of them is
that she's a woman. I know firsthand how preconceived
notions create an uphill battle. And this is the South,
where women are still supposed to be wearing pearls and
aprons and going to the beauty shop twice a week. What if we
get a male chauvinist pig for a judge?
"I don't want to sound ungrateful," I say. "But maybe I
should look for someone with more experience. I'm not asking
for a handout. I intend to pay."
"You could get easily someone with more experience. This is
a high-profile case with national attention. Laywers will
come after this case like a shark after blood in the water,"
Ross says. "But Amelia is really good. And she cares about
the outcome, not the media exposure she'll get. She can
devote the time. And she's not asking for a huge retainer.
She's already contacted the Orleans Parish Jail to get in to
I don't admit it, but that retainer would be a problem. I
have a little savings, but I'd have to borrow the rest. And
going through that kind of credit scrutiny will be blood for
the sharks in my own particular watersâ€”Keith and Stan are
already circling at the Foundation.
"Have you called your grandmother?" he asks, his voice more
neutral than his eyes.
"No." I almost can't ask the question, but the wrongness of
my assumption about Mrs. Saenger blindsided me. "Do you know
if she's still at Hawthorn House?"
"As of last Christmas she was. She sent Griff birthday and
Christmas cards here, even after I wrote to tell her he was
The relief that rushes through my veins tells me I love her
far more than I resent her. Still, just the thought of that
emotional conversation makes me sway.
"But when I called yesterday," he says, "there was no
answer. Do you want to try now?"
I should say yes, of course. But I don't have the strength.
"You don't want to talk to her." Ross has not lost his
ability to see inside me. He'd been that way since the
moment he saved my life.
"I rather not. Not right now."
The look that crosses his face makes me feel like a wayward
childâ€”and I suppose in a way I am. But at the moment, I can
barely form thoughts into words.
Ross nods. "I'll try again. You look ready to drop. Have you
eaten or slept?"
"I can't eat. The mere thought of foodâ€¦." I shudder.
"Let's get you upstairs. You can take a hot bath and get a nap."
"I'll call a cab, get a hotel. Then I should go see Walden.
He needs to know he's not alone."
But he is alone, because you left him.
"Don't be ridiculous. You'll stay here. And there's no way
you'll get in to see him today. Amelia hasn't even gotten in
yet." He's already in the front hall, picking up my suitcase.
The thought of going back out into that sweltering heat
makes me dizzy. I'm not sure I can even drag myself up the
long, curved mahogany staircase.
I follow him to a bedroom with ice blue draperies, bedspread
and filigree on the wallpaper. Just looking at it makes me
feel cool and calm.
"There's a private bath through that door. Get some rest,
you're going to need it."
As he's backing out of the room, I say, "Don't let me sleep
long. I want to go see him as soon asâ€”asâ€”" I put my hand
over my eyes. The first tears I've allowed since this all
began start to fall. I turn away and wave Ross from the room.
I hope he doesn't try to comfort me. I'm too worn to ward it
off and too weak to not crumble.
After a couple of seconds, his soft footsteps move away and
I hear the door quietly close.
I reach into my purse and pull Griff's lucky arrowhead out
of the zipper pocket. Then I curl on my side the cool bed,
clutching it to my chest and allow myself a regret-filled cry.
I dream of a storm-filled sky, lightning bolts and
tree-stripping winds. A dark swirling twister barrels down
on me as I chase Walden, his blond hair bobbing ahead of me,
a bright spot in the dimness. We're surrounded by endless
acres with no shelter. The roar is right at my back, the
wind ripping at my clothes, snapping my hair in my face.
Then the noise rises over my head, the funnel skipping over
me. Then descending, plucking Walden from the earth, his
small feet still running as he hangs in the debris-filled air.
I wake yelling his name.
Feet thud up the stairs and down the hallway, stopping
abruptly at the bedroom door. I hear Ross's hand on the knob
before he pauses, then knocks. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." A drop of red falls onto the wide bell of my pants,
standing out against the argyle design. I open my hand to
see I've squeezed the arrowhead so hard I'm bleeding. "Oh shit!"
The door bursts open, and Ross is by the bed before I can
blink. "What happened?" He heads into the bathroom,
returning with a thick blue towel.
When he tries to wrap my hand, I pull it toward my chest,
careful so the blood doesn't drip onto the bedspread. "It'll
Confidently, yet gently, he takes my hand and flips the
towel around it. "It's a towel, for God's sake, not an
heirloom." Then he looks in my eyes. "Lulie, did youâ€¦?"
The sound of the nickname I haven't heard in years sends a
clammy shiver across my skin. "Did I what?"
"Try to hurt yourself."
"Of course not!" The idea of him trying to dig around inside
my head irritates me. "If I was going to kill myself, I'd
have done it in San Francisco where nobody would find me
until I was good and dead."
He surprises me by laughing. "Only you, Lulie." After a
pause, he says, "At least you answered one of my many
"And that is?" I pull my hand and the towel from his grasp.
"Where you're living." He raises a brow. "Alone?"
"Very. By choice, if that's your next question. And I'm not
isolated in a filthy apartment filled with a hundred cats.
I'm quite normal."
There's something in the way looks at me that makes me
uncomfortable. I shift and get off the far side of the bed.
"Normal is what I always wanted for you. Of course, normal
is a relative term. And quite separate from happy or content."
I head to the bathroom to run some cold water over my hand
and rinse off the arrowhead. "Quite content," I say over the
sound of the running water. I adore my job, my apartment. I
have acquaintances, not the emotional entanglements of deep
I look in the mirror and see him leaning against the door
jamb to the bathroom. "So how did you cut your hand?"
I finish rinsing the arrowhead and hold it up for him to
see, but I keep my eyes on his reflection, not the real man.
"Unusual good luck charm," he says.
"Talisman," I correct. "I don't believe in luck."
He steps closer behind me. "Do you still have a place to
cast your anger and your fears?"
I am so startled that I turn to face him.
"You're not the only one who remembers." His gaze holds mine
for a second, then he turns. "I'll get some bandages for
As I listen to Ross walk down the stairs, I wonderâ€”if I'd
continued to toss my fears into a river, would things have
turned out differently for all of us?
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