I’ve mentioned before that I am an inveterate re-reader. For our trip to visit our daughter who is spending six months working in the Charleston area, I brought along the novel Islands, by southern author Ann Rivers Siddons that I still keep on my shelf. While I didn’t connect the dots until I started it on the plane, re-reading it brought new meaning because the tale takes place exactly where we visited. Over the week, images that had already seemed to clear to me through the lens of Siddons' writing, became real in the experiencing.
For this trip, I’d created a list of places to visit that I’d learned about through reading Siddons and other southern authors, and sightseers that we were, we crossed almost everything off. We walked the Battery and White Point Gardens. We ogled the colorful houses on Tradd Street, toured plantations and waterfront homes. We walked a pier in Mount Pleasant, waded in pre-tropical-storm-waves on Isle of Palms, and ate at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island. We took sunset pictures on Shem Creek and burned ourselves silly while playing bocce on Folly Beach. At each location, a shiver of familiarity hit as I remembered fictional scenes that occurred in the same places.
This especially hit home early in our visit, the evening after we drove from West Ashley to John’s Island via Main Road, cross the Maybank Highway, and down Bohicket. That night, I read a chapter in Islands before I went to sleep, and wouldn’t you know, the main character took the exact same trip to get to her creek house.
We drove some variation of that car trip several times over our visit, and for the rest of the week, each time we crossed the bridge over the Stono River, I tried to see the area from the MC’s eyes. As we descended from its great height, I looked to the left and right, over the marshes, thinking if I just knew the right road to turn onto I might actually find the banks where the MC harvested oysters, or the long dock where she tied up her boat. If only the GPS could have told me the location of the marsh banks where dolphins herded schools of fish, or where the MC sat silently in her whaler while a beady-eyed alligator floated log-like down the creek.
I know. The novel is fiction. But, without a doubt, we toured roads and byways the author knows by heart. I’ve always loved stories that take place in familiar terrains. This time, I traveled a thousand miles and felt as if I’d become part of the action.
Sunset from a moving car, over the Stono Bridge.