Peach Keeper (Allen)

The Peach Keeper
Sarah Addison Allen, 2011
Random House
304 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553385601


The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Chased the Moon welcomes you to her newest locale: Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town’s famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be.

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.

For the bones—those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago—are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind. Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Katie Gallagher
Birth—ca. 1972
Where—Ashville, North Carolina, USA
Education—B.A., University of North Carolina, Asheville
Currently—lives in Asheville, North Carolina

Garden Spells didn't start out as a magical novel," writes Sarah Addison Allen. "It was supposed to be a simple story about two sisters reconnecting after many years. But then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own... and my life hasn't been the same since."

North Carolina novelist Sarah Addison Allen brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction—a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility.

Born and raised in Asheville, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Allen grew up with a love of books and an appreciation of good food (she credits her journalist father for the former and her mother, a fabulous cook, for the latter). In college, she majored in literature—because, as she puts it, "I thought it was amazing that I could get a diploma just for reading fiction. It was like being able to major in eating chocolate."

After graduation in 1994, Allen began writing seriously. She sold a few stories and penned romances for Harlequin under the pen name Katie Gallagher; but her big break occurred in 2007 with the publication of her first mainstream novel, Garden Spells, a modern-day fairy tale about an enchanted apple tree and the family of North Carolina women who tend it. Booklist called Allen's accomplished debut "spellbindingly charming," and the novel became a BookSense pick and a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection.

The Sugar Queen followed in 2008, The Girl Who Chased the Moon in 2009, The Peach Keeper in 2011; and Lost Lake in 2014. Allen's 2015 novel First Frost returned to some of her charaters in Garden Spells.

Since then, Allen has continued to serve heaping helpings of the fantastic and the familiar in fiction she describes as "Southern-fried magic realism." Clearly, it's a recipe readers are happy to eat up as fast as she can dish it out.

From a 2007 Barnes and Noble interview:

• I love food. The comforting and sensual nature of food always seems to find its way into what I write. Garden Spells involves edible flowers. My book out in 2008 involves southern and rural candies. Book three, barbeque. But, you know what? I'm a horrible cook.

• In college I worked for a catalog company, taking orders over the phone. Occasionally celebrities would call in their own orders. My brush with celebrity? I took Bob Barker's order.

• I was a Star Wars fanatic when I was a kid. I have the closet full of memorabilia to prove it — action figures, trading cards, comic books, notebooks with ‘Mrs. Mark Hamill' written all over the pages. I can't believe I just admitted that.

• While I was writing this, a hummingbird came to check out the trumpet vine outside my open window. I stopped typing and sat very still, mesmerized, my hands frozen on the keys, until it flew away. I looked back to my computer and ten minutes had passed in a flash.

• I love being a writer.

When asked what book most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

Every book I've ever read has influenced me in some way. Paddington Bear books and Beverly Cleary in elementary school. Nancy Drew and Judy Blume in middle school. The sci-fi fantasy of my teens. The endless stream of paperback romances I devoured as I got older. Studying world literature and major movements in college. Who I am, what I am, is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, a lifetime of stories. And there are still so many more books to read. I'm a work in progress. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
An enjoyable read [with] doses of magical realism and romance.
Associated Press

At 30, Willa Jackson returns to her small Southern hometown, Walls of Water, N.C., in the wake of a failed marriage to her college sweetheart. She's determined now to lead the quiet life she believes her father wants her to have, but is soon derailed by the wealthy and powerful Osgoods, the family that shaped her high school experience. The Jacksons were also wealthy once, until the logging industry failed, and Willa's teenage grandmother went to work as a maid for the Osgoods. Paxton Osgood, Willa's counterpart, has everything Willa envies—wealth, beauty and a sense of belonging—but Paxton hides a deep loneliness and discontent. To further complicate Willa's unrest, Paxton's brother, Colin, fled town years before but has returned and become an irresistible force in Willa's life. When a skeleton that holds the secret to both the Osgood and Jackson family fortunes is discovered at the Jackson family's old estate, long-held beliefs are likely to be overturned. Allen (The Girl Who Chased the Moon) juggles smalltown history and mystical thriller, character development and eerie magical realism in a fine Southern gothic drama. The underlying tension will please and unnerve readers, as well as leave them eager for Allen's next.
Publishers Weekly

Her marriage a shambles, Willa Jackson returns home to Walls of Water, the town where she grew up, and tries to fit in. There she discovers an extraordinary feud that has divided two sisters for decades. Hmm, Allen's standard small-town charm, maybe not the usual flights of fantasy—but then I haven't read it yet. Lots of promotion, including to libraries and cooking/foodie websites.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
1. What do you think the title The Peach Keeper means? Who is the peach keeper in the story?

2. Superstitions played a big part in Willa's grandmother's life, and in Willa's life, by extension. What superstitions did you grow up with? Why do you think superstitions exist?

3. Several of the characters in The Peach Keeper struggle with how people used to see them as opposed to who they are now. Who were you in high school? Do you miss that person? Or are you glad to leave that time in your life behind?

4. Willa spent her formative years as The Joker, acting out and sparking controversy that she wouldn't become aware of until she was an adult. What do you make of her past actions? How does it connect to the way she acts in the novel? How does it affect her relationships as an adult?

5. The characters in The Peach Keeper live in an extraordinarily beautiful area, one surrounded by waterfalls. Yet Willa once remarks, "When you see it every day, sometimes you wonder what the big deal is." Do you think you get so used to beauty that you stop seeing it? What are some natural wonders in your area? Does Willa's comment also refer to people?

6. The Blue Ridge Madam takes on a life of its own in the novel, becoming much more than a building. What do you think it represents for the town? For Willa and Paxton?

7. There's a wisp of something supernatural following the characters in the story, seemingly brought into their lives by the discovery of buried bones under a peach tree. What are your thoughts on the supernatural? Do you think disturbing a grave upsets the spiritual side of things? Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

8. One of the prevailing themes in The Peach Keeper is friendship. Agatha and Georgie are elderly, and have been friends all their lives. Paxton and Willa have a newly formed friendship. The book posits that friendship is "a living breathing thing, something that comes to life the moment it happens and doesn't just go away when it's no longer acknowledged." If there is no big break-up, just a gradual separation, do you think the friendship still exists? Do you think once you are a friend, are you always a friend? Have you ever reconnected with an old friend and found that you still share a bond with them?

9. Sarah Addison Allen's books usually have themes of forgiveness and food. Have you read Sarah's other books? How is The Peach Keeper similar? How is it a departure? Did you recognize the reference to the main characters in her debut novel, Garden Spells?

10. Paxton, Willa, and even Willa's father, deal with parental expectation. Do you think that who we become in life is due in part to what our parents wanted us to be, or who are parents were? If you have children, how do they fit the pattern?

11. How do you take your coffee? Do you think that says something about you? Do you believe, like Rachel, that how someone takes their coffee says something about their personality?

12. What do you think of Paxton and Sebastian's relationship, and how it evolves over the course of the novel? Have you ever had a similar relationship in your life? How do you feel it fed into the overall themes of The Peach Keeper?

13. Willa and Colin have a complicated relationship from the start—what do you think is the strongest force pulling them together? Do you think their relationship would have worked had they met in another time and place?

14. In the end, Agatha keeps a secret she promised to keep seventy-five years ago. In this information age, we are not a private society. How hard is it to keep secrets? Would you be capable of keeping a secret that long?

15. The theme of roots runs through the novel—from the peach tree, to Colin's work, to the characters struggling with their place in Walls of Water. What about the town and its history draws people to it and entices them to put down roots? On the flip side, what about it causes others to deny their roots and move away? Have you had a similar experience with your home town?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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