Review: The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Source: Personal Copy
Sarah Addison Allen has become my go-to writer for heartwarming comfort fiction. I've now read three of her books and can safely say she has yet to let me down. Some people may categorize her work as chick lit, but I would disagree. Allen's fiction chooses to focus on strong women with normal lives and normal problems. As a writer she has the ability to capture the heart of the small southern town and really make you perceive with every one of your senses. Delving into the worlds that she creates is such a delightful treat.
Walls of Water, North Carolina is a town full of secrets, superstitions, and traditions. Willa Jackson, whose family was once the richest in town, is trying to make a life for herself separate from her family legacy and her high school image as The Joker. She runs a store that sells outdoor supplies and coffee in the tourist part of town in an attempt to isolate herself from the life she once knew. Paxton Osgood is a socialite with good intentions who has begun to restore The Blue Ridge Madame, the grandest mansion that was once owned by the Jackson family generations ago. It is this house and the secrets buried beneath the peach tree in the front yard that begin to connect Paxton and Willa. Through this unlikely alliance, the two girls must delve deeper into the history of the town and of their own grandmothers in the hopes of unraveling the mystery of long forgotten secrets, life changing betrayals, and everlasting friendships.
The Peach Keeper was such an engaging read from start to finish. I was captivated from the beginning and couldn't put the book down, which is exactly why I love Allen's work so much. You can really get lost in her writing, and she has an excellent way drawing you into the story with her vivid descriptions. Her past novels have more of a food focus, but this one used nature to create such a luscious atmosphere. From the descriptions of the national forest to the majesty of old southern architecture, I found myself desperately wanting to take a road trip to North Carolina and experience the beauty myself.
Because we're connected, as women. It's like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there's trouble, we all know it. But most of the time we're just too scared or selfish or insecure to help. But if we don't help each other, who will?As for the characters, I was really impressed with how strong and brave the females were, both for themselves and for others. There was such an emphasis on friendships and, as you can tell from the quote above, women sticking together. I definitely enjoyed Paxton more that I thought I would. She is different from the usual Allen protagonist, and I was afraid at first that the story of the two girls wasn't going to meld well together. I've read two other books by the author, and normally the pretty rich popular girl isn't the focus. Luckily, Allen is able to create such a likable character to which I think a lot of people can relate. Weighed down by obligations to her family and community, Paxton spends her life trying to please everyone else and neglecting her own needs. The focus is never on her wealth or her status but her job, her relationships, and her dreams. This is why I think the story lines of Willa and Paxton were able to coexist successfully.
Now for the few qualms I had with the book. I felt that The Peach Keeper was missing some of the magic that made her previous novels sparkle. There was talk of ghosts, superstitions, and a travelling salesman with abilities in the past, but there wasn't that element in the present day storyline to be able to call it magical realism. Probably the only reason this bothers me is because I was expecting it based on past readings, but this lacking doesn't detract from the overall story. If this had been my first Allen book then I think I would have enjoyed it more since I wouldn't have had the expectations. Also, I wish that there had been more focus on the past, especially on the grandmothers. I loved Agatha and wish she could have been a more well-rounded character. For me, an addition of fifty pages or so would have allowed for a few more flashback chapters, making the story feel more complete.
Overall, Sarah Addison Allen has created another engaging and whimsical winner. The pacing of the mystery angle was excellent, with little morsels being slowly revealed at the right moments. The is also a little treat for fans of her other book Garden Spells in the form of a character guest appearance. The Peach Keeper is a tale of buried secrets, the journey one must take to become free from the past, and the enduring bonds of friendship, family and tradition. While not my favorite Allen book, I completely recommend this one, especially during the lazy days of summer.