Willa Jackson has finally settled down. Though known as a prankster in high school, the time came for Willa to let go of her constant need for an adrenaline rush, move back to her hometown and run a store in Walls of Water, North Carolina’s popular tourist area. Growing up in a place known for its nature and beautiful cataracts, Willa was eager to get away — but family, more than anything, pulled her home again.
In another part of town, Paxton Osgood has never left. Born into a wealthy family and destined to continue the Osgoods’ reputation for class, excellence and poise, Paxton never considered leaving the only home she’s ever known — especially when her twin brother, Colin, seemed so eager to go. Someone had to stay with her parents, entertaining and helping and supporting them. Someone had to foster their reputation for charity in the community. Somebody had to remain the backbone and brace of Walls of Water’s vibrant citizenship. And guess who that was?
Though cordial to one another, Willa and Paxton were never good friends — unlike their aging grandmothers, Georgie and Agatha. In the 1930s, the two women came together to form the Women’s Society Club of Walls of Water, an organization established to protect and support one another. Paxton has continued their traditions while Willa has shunned them, even ignoring Paxton’s recent invitation to celebrate the club’s anniversary with a giant party at the restored mansion the Jacksons once owned.
But Willa might not be able to ignore Paxton much longer . . . especially after a body is found buried beneath the peach tree that grows on the site of the Blue Ridge Madam. Who was he? And how did he get there?
And how will they find out the truth?
Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper, a luscious slice of Southern fiction, was every bit as scrumptious and delightful as I’d expect from a woman who is quickly establishing herself as one of my “no fail” authors. Infused with a touch of magical realism so light and airy that it seems wholly believable, her latest novel is a treat from start to finish.
At the heart of The Peach Keeper are the ladies and friendships that sustain them, and I found myself relating most closely to Paxton. At 30, she lives in the guesthouse of her family home and sags beneath the weight of trying to please her parents, community and — in last place — herself. I felt her sense of familial obligation keenly, and the scenes in which she expresses her love for Sebastian, her best friend, were heart-wrenching. Sebastian was the perfect male lead: handsome; sincere; hardworking; endlessly supportive. If Paxton couldn’t have him, I thought, maybe I could.
Though neither woman is painted as “the bad guy” here, Paxton is the more uptight and high-strung of the two — but Willa, more of a free spirit, still struggles with maintaining her isolated life in the home she once shared with her father, now deceased. I felt for Willa, too, as she tried to reconcile the adventurous, rebellious young woman she was with the stable, boring person she’d become. Though Colin’s arrival back in town shakes all of that up, too . . .
And the mystery! Oh, that mystery. I was intrigued and invested from start to finish, wondering who had been discovered beneath the Madam’s peach tree. Though obviously linked to their grandmothers, the truth is revealed gradually — and each morsel is tantalizing. Allen’s pacing was exquisite, giving readers just enough to stay interested without spilling the whole truth. I was dying to know what happened.
Romance and love are palpable in this story, too, which are the fishhooks used to snare me in any novel. Of the two developing stories, Paxton’s was the most interesting to me — and I was on the edge of my seat with the suspense of knowing whether or not her feelings were reciprocated. She was so deserving of happiness.
A fabulous, unpredictable read from one of the masters of the magical realism genre, and one I would happily recommend to fans of contemporary or women’s fiction. Allen fans will delight in a cameo made by one of her Garden Spells characters, too.
4.5 out of 5!