Morgan & Whitney Dish: The Peach Keeper By Sarah Addison Allen
This week we read The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen at Whitney’s request. A big fan of the author’s previous works, Whitney loves these Southern family-style dramas with more than a hint of magic.
Whitney: Welcome to the wonderful world of Sarah Addison Allen novels! I’ve been hooked ever since I read Garden Spells, which I consider mandatory reading for anyone with adult sisters.
Morgan: This is my first Allen, but not my last. Question: Are all of her books so well constructed? It can’t be easy writing a story with an unlikely friendship, two romances, a long forgotten mystery and magic.
Whitney: They each have their own distinct plotline and quirky characters, but they are all strong stories. My favorite part of SAA’s writing is the way that magic flows through her stories without them ever becoming fantasy tales. She has such a light touch with these elements.
Morgan: I’m also a huge fan of the magical realism that starts on the very first page of The Peach Keeper. You know what you are in for the moment the “the air turns white when things are about to change ... paper cuts mean there’s more to what’s written than meets the eye ... birds are always out to protect you from things you don’t see.” Bad things are coming to the town of Walls of Water.
Whitney: I really appreciate that within an SAA story these things just happen and the characters kind of accept, even expect, these more mystical elements in their lives. Can you imagine being at a dinner party where you can suddenly no longer tell social lies?
Morgan: Oh, the scene at the meeting when all of the women start to blurt out their secrets and can’t stop! One woman steals lipstick from the drug store for no reason, another one thinks that she is prettier than her friend. Pretty innocuous, but at the same time those little secrets we keep under wraps for the sake of our social circles. Or at least we try to keep them under wraps. The ladies of Walls of Water don’t know what's come over them, but they take it all in stride, just like when the other strange events happen, like the flood or the misdelivered mail.
Whitney: I think I’m choosing to believe that the town’s collective suspension of disbelief has something to do with being in the South. In the North I think our everyday magic lies more on the ghost haunting an attic side of the spectrum than on the unexpected natural phenomenon side ...
Morgan: I hadn’t though of it like that, but you’re right. I grew up in the West and I can tell you out there it is all about the folklore of people who actually existed. So I’ve got Wyatt Earp and you’ve got Rip Van Winkle and Walls of Water has the legend of Tucker Devlin.
Whitney: Should I even ask about Wyatt Earp? He sounds like he might be missing a few teeth. And Rip Van Winkle clearly sounds like he’s up to no good. But Tucker Devlin? That sounds like a prom date!
Morgan: Not so fast, this Tucker Devlin was magic — and not the good kind. “The man could whistle and make the wind stop.” Both intriguing and a bit scary. This shady character from the past is a great way to create a bit of mystery in the story.
Whitney: But The Peach Keeper isn’t quite a mystery, but it isn’t not-one either, you know?
Morgan: In my mind, an unidentified dead body almost always equals a mystery.
Whitney: The story wasn’t so much solving a generations-old crime as much as it was about the current-day friendship that is growing between Willa and Paxton.
Morgan: Yes, bonding over pepper spraying some drunken idiots and each other’s mutual inability to make friends. Not your traditional BFF story, but how else was the author going to get these women to like each other? They are exact opposites. Paxton attends Women’s Society Club meetings, obsessively writes to-do lists and still lives with her parents. Willa needs something to do so she runs a sporting-goods store selling organic sportswear, even though she is neither an outdoors person nor into the environment.
Whitney: It really is kind of precious the way that these two gals find each other — even though neither of them really wants the friendship at first, the next thing you know Pax’s brother Colin is dating Willa, Pax is dating Sebastian and they all become a little clique. They end up fitting so nicely together, Willa, Pax, her brother, Colin, and Sebastian makes a really good group.
Morgan: I loved The Breakfast Club moment when they all go out to the diner together and realize what a weird group they actually make. They all still relate so well to who they were in high school. The Joker, The Stick Man, The Princess and The Freak. They are not exactly who they were in high school, yet not so different either.
Whitney: You know what I would have loved to see more of? The pranks that defined Willa as “The Joker” back in high school. Especially because Colin’s attraction to Willa had so much to do with the pranks and his love of “who she used to be” even though she’s no longer that person.
Morgan: It was heartbreaking when Colin asks Willa what happened to her — she used to be the bravest person he knew. That is when Willa really starts to re-evaluate her life. She realizes that somewhere along the line she let the best part of herself go. Colin challenges her to take back her life.
Whitney: Willa and Colin have a romance with a twist, whereas I feel that Pax and Sebastian have a twist with a romance. Sebastian spends most of the story keeping his sexuality under wraps.
Morgan: Where Colin and Willa have a traditional romance (challenging yes, but still traditional), Allen seems to have a great time playing with readers’ expectations with Sebastian and the “is he, is he not” question of his sexuality.
Whitney: It wasn’t just that Paxton didn’t think at Sebastian was interested in women, Sebastian was wrestling with his own questions about what type of relationships he would like to be involved in. The relationships in the story have a similar feel to those in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet? with these people who you’d think might be mismatched that end up really coming together to create a family.
Morgan: That’s funny because I also see a lot of SEP in Sarah Addison Allen — especially with the rich character development. And not just the main protagonists, but the secondary characters as well. Every single character in The Peach Keeper is multidimensional and interesting. Even the ones with very little “screen time.”
Whitney: You know who I really loved? Rachel, Willa’s assistant at her sporting goods store.
Morgan: Definitely. The interactions between these two were where a lot of the fun, lighthearted moments in the book came from.
“I’m going out with Colin Osgood today, and he’s meeting me here...If you start making kissy noises, I will strip you of all your coffee privileges.”
“Can I make a joke?”
“Can I hum The Wedding March as you leave?”
“Does this mean you are Colin are—”
Whitney: This is absolutely classic. And Rachel’s whimsy, especially her personality test based on the way people take their coffee this is so very, very Sarah Addison Allen. I almost wish I hadn’t given up coffee so that she could analyze my order! How do you take your coffee Morgan?
Morgan: Coffee gives me heartburn. And doesn’t that just say it all!
If we were coffee drinkers, we’d definitely recommend a good cup of Joe to go with this Dish. But if you are craving some Sarah Addison Allen action of your own, you should pick up The Peach Keeper in stores now. Next, we will be dishing about Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age, so feel free to read along.