Siddons' ninth effort details the life of Maude Gascoigne, a Southerner whose story begins upon her wedding engagement to a privileged Bostonian. Maude recounts her passage from a lazy existence in the South Carolina swamplands to a life of summers at Retreat, an old-money colony in Cape Rosier, Maine. The unsophisticated Maude arrives at the blueblood colony as the young fiancee of the socially prominent Peter Chambliss. Peter soon marries the olive-skinned, French- blooded Maude, defying his mother, the venerable Hannah Chambliss.
Maude joins the fair-skinned young brides who spend their vacations serving their mothers-in-law, the pampered matriarchs of the aristocratic enclave. She finds a comrade in Amy Potter, a sister in servitude who educates her in the escapist art of the feigned migraine. As Peter sails, Maude serves -- to fulfill a pre-ordained tradition and sit among the new order of matriarchs, rocking away their payback years on the sun porches.
Through many seasons, Maude faces antagonizing opposition by jealous contemporaries, including a vengeful beauty who failed to capture Peter's heart. In the face of much personal heartache, she eventually earns the hard-won compassion of the friends who see her through children and grandchildren, marital strife, death, separation and renewal. Maude finds an irreplaceable ally in Micah Willis, a salty townie whose similarly humble roots assisted their initial bonding. Micah's rough-hewn strength becomes part of her own backbone, and their deepening affection eventually causes her to explore long-submerged feelings.
Colony is as much about relationships as it is about Maude. As in her earlier Outer Banks, Siddons uses the main character's bird'seye view to breathe life into the supporting characters, infusing dramatic plot turns to enrich Maude's story. Maude and Hannah finally develop a mutual respect, finding common ground through discovering the sturdy stuff of which each is made.
Maude did not spend her summers vying for a seat on the coveted sun porch, but aimed for a peace closer to her soul: the preservation of Retreat's bountiful nature, an enriched family life, and the hard-won respect of the Colony. Upon Hannah's death, Amy acknowledges, "We don't get up for old women any more. We're the ones with porch privileges." "Oh, Amy," a weary Maude responds, "I never wanted to get there."
After a challenging, off-season life in New Hampshire, a widowed Maude eventually finds peace in Retreat, her last oasis of true respite and enduring family tradition. With the help and hindrance of her granddaughter, Darcy, she successfully tugs Retreat from the grasp of an ill-intentioned developer. Siddons leaves us to believe that Darcy will carry on the Retreat tradition, accepting the torch that has been passed to her generation.
I actually found Cape Rosier last summer, after driving as far as the old, Down East roads could take me. I was disappointed that there were no signs for Retreat. The weather-worn cottages dotted the quiet shore, sitting carefully out of site beyond long, winding driveways. I thought how nice it would be to relax on a sun porch, and reread Colony. Then I remembered, I lent it to my sister.