Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory

review by Maryom

Twenty-seven year old Sarah Browne is struggling to make her way as an artist in New York when she's hit by two major emotional blows - the married woman she's been having an affair with decides to return to her husband, and news arrives that her estranged mother has died, leaving Sarah a large inheritance including a cabin in New Mexico. Doubly cast adrift, Sarah decides she'll not return home to England for her mother's funeral but head off to New Mexico - to start again, maybe to find some connection to her mother that was lacking in life, or maybe just to hide the way an injured animal will. The cabin is remote and isolated; the only neighbours, Theo and his middle-aged mother, living on the opposite side of the valley. Sarah soon embarks on a relationship with Theo, earning his mother's disapproval, but it's an uneven, unstable relationship bound to end, possibly in violence.

I had slightly mixed feelings about this book from its synopsis. I hope the author will forgive me for suggesting it sounded like the story of a pampered woman, running out on her responsibilities, to 'get in touch with herself' in the wilderness, and then presumably going to find true love; a light, almost romcom scenario. It's not at all like that. It's a much darker read, exploring the way grief, particularly unacknowledged grief, can work on people turning them to anger and violence. 

Sarah is a complex character, shaped by the unresolved issues stemming from her childhood - a odd upbringing in a house of women; her mother and aunt (both alcoholics if Sarah's point of view is to be believed) and surprisingly level headed, well-adjusted cousin. Always feeling neglected by her mother, she alternately loved and hated her in return, eventually running away from home at 17. With her mother's death the outside chance of a reconciliation is gone, but also so is the focus of Sarah's anger. She won't acknowledge any love for her mother, or grief at her death, yet it's easy to see that both are buried somewhere deep inside her. 

This is a book which I found growing on me as I read - initially because I realised it wasn't going to be that light fluffy read I'd dreaded, but then as I became immersed in Sarah's troubles and dreading how she might act. She's somewhat like a pressure cooker, waiting to burst, or even the extinct volcano that formed the valley her mother's cabin sits in; anger simmers just below the surface, and it's obvious that sometime or other Sarah will 'explode'.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Freight Books
Genre -  Adult literary

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