We got stuck in a fall malaise last week. No one was sick enough to warrant plague status, but we all had our turn with a couple days of lethargy and achiness. When it was my turn to hide in bed for an afternoon, I found the pile of books on my nightstand lacking. I find reading while sick to be a delicate affair and none of the books I had waiting walked the right balance between light and compelling. I didn’t even feel like a trip to the library, so I started sorting through what was available right that minute on the OverDrive app. Even digital libraries can save the day, it seems, because I found just the right sickbed read in The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen.
The Peach Keeper takes place outside Asheville, North Carolina, in a small town full of old money and family secrets. Willa Jackson lives in the same house she grew up in and owns a sporting goods store even though she has no interest in the outdoors. Paxton Osgood is busy coordinating the restoration of an old manor in town–The Blue Ridge Madam–just in time for the 75th anniversary of the founding of the town’s Women’s Society. The only two original members of the society alive are Willa and Paxton’s paternal grandmothers, who happen to reside at the same nursing home. Even though the Blue Ridge Madam was built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather, she is many steps removed from the wealth or social status her grandparents once held. Paxton is right in the middle of the town’s elite but struggling to find any footing in her personal life. When a skeleton is found buried on the property, secrets come to light about the summer the society formed. Willa and Paxton end up working together to figure out what happened and what role their grandmothers played in the events that summer 75 years before.
Like everything else I’ve read by Allen, The Peach Keeper is light and just the slightest bit magical. There is never really any worry that the problems won’t be resolved in the end or that the guy and girl won’t end up together. This is not a suspenseful book by any means. The book is not without substance, however. Through the experiences of Willa and Paxton, Allen makes some pointed observations about what it means to go back (or stay) home as an adult (especially when home is a small Southern town). The descriptions of food and setting are evocative. We visited Asheville a few weeks ago, and I found myself imagining this book taking place on any number of the streets we walked. My favorite part of the book is how much of the story revolves around friendship–old friends, new friends, fake friends, and figuring out how to be friends in various stages of life.
For me, this is a read once sort of book, but it was just the right book at just the right time. It left me wanting to go for a fall hike with a good friend and wishing I had a superstitious old Southern grandma myself.