I received Daring to Eat a Peach, Joseph Zeppetello’s first novel, for review from Atticus Books.
About the Book:
When we first encounter Denton Pike, he is living in a condo for which he overpaid, avoiding commitment in the wake of a divorce, and working at a job he doesn’t love translating European literature for a publishing house. In his 30s, he is, more or less, stuck, inert, waiting for the next thing to bump him in a new direction.
Peter Blaine, Denton’s long-time friend, has just flown in from the West Coast after his girlfriend ended up in a Mexican prison on drug charges. Experienced in journalism but looking for a job change, he crashes at Denton’s place for a bit before finding an apartment of his own.
Rita is a single mother with a preteen daughter. Rita put herself through college while working and caring for her daughter and now translates Spanish texts for the same publishing house for which Denton works.
As the lives of Denton, Peter, Rita, and others drift together and pull apart, they bump each other–often unintentionally–onto different courses. Is it luck, fate, or something else that changes the paths of their lives? And is it for the better, or is it just the way things are?
Daring to Eat a Peach was a very interesting novel. I kept waiting for something big to happen, for the story to follow a traditional trajectory of beginning, middle, climax, end. And yet, it never really worked out that way. Instead, it’s almost as if Zeppetello had snipped a shared year or two from the middle of his characters’ lives and presented it in novel form.
In addition to Denton, Peter, and Rita, we meet a host of other characters: Rita’s friend Judy, Judy’s ex-husband and parents, her brother and his friends, Denton’s ex-wife and parents, the parents of ex-spouses, the heads of publishing houses and their secretaries. We hear enough about each of them that, by the time the novel is finished, we know each character’s story and can place him or her within a web of others, tracing how their stories converge, intertwine, collide, separate.
Out of this stew of characters, random moments, and chance happenings, Zeppetello crafts his novel. In a way, Daring to Eat a Peach reflects real life astonishingly well. It isn’t steeped in tragedy. It doesn’t take you on an exaggerated roller coaster ride or infuse each day with magic. There is the occasional fortuitous coincidence, but mostly it’s just your average dose of chance.
The things that happen in the novel seem random; yet subtly, Zeppetello explores how each unintentional but potentially life changing event came to pass. Jobs change. Relationships begin, stagnate, end, continue. Habits are broken and formed. It looks like nothing much is happening. Often, the characters don’t even recognize the potential life changing moments. Or they do, but they never imagined the outcome.
When I finished Daring to Eat a Peach, I didn’t really have many feelings toward it. It seemed to be a relatively straightforward contemporary tale of a group of young professionals in their mid-30s. Yet several days later, I’m still thinking about it. It’s the sort of book that echoes down through you, giving you plenty to think about while seeming to be quite ordinary. I think it’s because Daring to Eat a Peach is so very much like real life, with no definite bookends to a story peopled with such average lives, that its power is greater.
If you’re interested, the novel’s title comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which goes along with the novel quite well. I can see why Zeppetello chose the title he did!
Have you ever read a book that didn’t seem like much when you first read it, but that ended up staying with you long after you’d finished reading?