Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Reviewed by Jeanne
Walls of Water, North Carolina is a former logging town, now known for its many waterfalls. It’s the kind of place that most people pick up and leave after graduation or else they stay forever in the same place their parents and grandparents lived. Long ago, the Jacksons were the most prosperous family in town; then hard times hit, and daughter Georgie ended up working as a maid. Now the wealthy Osgoods have decided to renovate the old Jackson family mansion known as the Blue Ridge Madam into a bed and breakfast, quite literally digging up old secrets and a body in the process.
Willa Jackson, Georgie’s granddaughter, has come back to Walls of Water after leaving in such a spectacular fashion that it cost her father his teaching job. She’s running a sporting goods store with a coffee bar run by Rachel, who says she can read people by their coffee orders. Paxton Osgood, the woman behind the renovations, is the wealthy daughter still trying to break free of her mother. She’s made it as far as her parents’ guest house. She’s desperately and probably hopelessly in love with Sebastian, the former classmate she once saw kissing another boy in a mall. Her twin brother, Colin, has indeed made his escape from Walls of Water and is working as a landscape engineer. It’s his idea to transplant a giant live oak tree onto the grounds of the Blue Ridge Madam in place of an old peach tree, inadvertently uncovering a human skeleton.
As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” All the characters in Peach Keeper are trying to either break with or come to terms with their pasts so they can move on. Willa and Paxton in particular discover how their families’ pasts are more deeply intertwined than they ever knew, with the repercussions lasting to the present.
This is Sarah Addison Allen’s fourth book. I’ve come to expect certain things from her:
1. A small town North Carolina setting, a bit off the beaten path, where you have a real sense of the people and the place. It feels homey, and the pace is a bit slower. There are little shops and diners, not mega-stores and fast food restaurants.
2. Food imagery. Not the sort in which the author pauses to give you a recipe every few pages and not descriptions to make you stop and raid the fridge, but descriptions that do appeal to the senses, like mixing cold mild and flour, a pinch of cinnamon and hint of vanilla, the smell of spices or the tang of barbecue.
3. Romance is in the air, even if people aren’t looking for it or it seems hopeless. Sometimes people you think should end up together at the start aren’t the ones who end up together in the last chapter, but that’s okay too. Double check! This time romance is one of the main themes, more overtly so than in some of the other books and a lot of fun to watch unfold.
4. Strong family ties, for good or ill. Characters are a product of their ancestors and their place. Some embrace that, some rebel, but they do make their own choices.
5. Characters I like. You’d think that would be a given, but there are a lot of books in which I find I would like to tell a character to shut up or grow up or, even better, do both. Allen’s characters tend to be people I know or would like to know-- with a few exceptions.
6. Strong female friendships that offer comfort and support. This is another main theme of this book, creating such friendships and seeing them in action. There is an old unexpected bond, too, one that makes a rather unsympathetic character suddenly much more understandable and admirable.
7. A whiff of magic. Not the eye of newt, cauldron bubble sort of magic, but just a little shimmer of something otherworldly, a touch of superstition mixed in with the everyday world. This time there’s a bit more with superstition, with birds fluttering at windows and pennies to draw ghosts away. There’s also a folklore motif about a traveling man that I found very satisfying.
8. At the end of the book I’ll feel happy and satisfied as if I’d eaten some lovely treat from the Blackbird Bakery except that I won’t fear the scales.
In short, Peach Keeper is a lovely summer read: sweet but not overly so, with a bit of a tang and as satisfying as the first peach of summer. Enjoy!