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Peach by Emma Glass

First published in Great Britain in 2018; published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC on January 11, 2018

Peach is a surrealistic novel about the aftermath of a sexual assault. The story has elements of a disturbing fantasy. Sexual assault is disturbing but it isn’t a fantasy, and I must admit that I’m not sure I understood Emma Glass’ purpose in telling a story about such a serious event from a perspective that is so obviously removed from reality. The reader is clearly not expected to view most of the novel’s events as plausible, but if that’s so, should we view the sexual assault as real? And if nothing in this story is meant to be accepted as real, what is its purpose? Perhaps the point is that the protagonist has unraveled as a result of the assault, but I can’t quite fit that in with the surrounding environment, including bizarre parenting and cannibalism. I have to confess that Glass’ meaning entirely eluded me. But I enjoyed the story, and perhaps more astute readers will unpack its mysteries.

Peach comes home bleeding but her parents don’t notice. If anything, they are pleased that she is “putting out” before she’s married. Peach wants to tell Green, her boyfriend, what happened to her but she can’t find the words. The details are not explicitly shared with the reader, but it is clear that she was sexually assaulted. She later receives a letter, words cut from newspapers, signed with the name Lincoln, that smells like greasy sausage, as did the man who assaulted her, and so puts the name Lincoln to her assailant.

Later Lincoln (or so she assumes) attacks Green, a vicious beating that is witnessed by Green’s friend Spud. Peach knows when Lincoln has been watching her because he leaves behind a slimy residue that carries an odor of grease and meat. Describing Peach’s ultimate confrontation with Lincoln would spoil the story, so I will say only that it is the stuff of fantasy or horror fiction. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my primary thought as I was reading that scene was WTF?

Mysteries for the reader to ponder include Peach’s sudden weight gain (which may or may not result from the obvious explanation), the meaning of Lincoln’s cryptic notes, the sex-obsessed behavior of Peach’s parents, the symbolic nature of Lincoln’s meat smell, the reason that Peach’s parents are so obsessed with eating meat (Peach is a vegetarian), and the parents’ reaction to the aftermath of Peach’s confrontation with Lincoln. My hat is tipped to readers who can answer those questions.

Peach tells a dark story in an incongruously light style. Some aspects of the story are bizarre, and I am not quite sure what message Emma Glass meant to send. Is the book intended to say something about female empowerment? Is it a meditation on the pain of rape? Is it a fantasy or the product of a disturbed mind? The reader will need to decide; I haven’t been able to settle on an interpretation, or even to begin shaping one that I regard as credible.

Emma Glass uses a number of literary techniques associated with poetry, including alliteration, assonance, repetition, imagery, and even the occasional rhyme, to give her prose a lyrical feel. She also indulges in a bit of wordplay. “Thick slick. Blood bleeds into the water, colour changes copper. … I tread, I tread. I reach between my legs until I find the final thread. I tread. The fine fibre I fumble to find with thick fingers, feel through viscuous liquid leaking out, leaking in. Treading still, I dread, I tug the thread.” A little of that can go a long way, but the novel is short, which makes it read like an epic poem.

And it’s good that the novel is short because the imagery is often quite disturbing, which might explain why Glass lightens the story, albeit with dark humor. Peach is a challenging novel but the prose alone is rewarding, and the story’s strangeness offers ample nourishment for thought. For that reason, and because I enjoyed the prose, I am recommending Peach despite my inability to make much sense of it.


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