- By Emma Glass
- Bloomsbury USA
- 112 pp.
- Reviewed by Bryana Fern
- February 9, 2019
This spare tale of rape and redemption packs an outsize punch.
Peach is the debut novel of Emma Glass, who crafts the story of a young woman’s experience with her body and her psyche in the aftermath of sexual assault. Glass’ profession as a nurse no doubt aids her insight into Peach’s story, and, indeed, Glass joins the long ranks of writers influenced by their work in biomedicine and science, from John Keats and William Carlos Williams to more contemporary authors like Rafael Campo and Jeannine Hall Gailey.
In a recent article in Literary Hub, Glass analyzes the unique and organic connection between science and language, and the way she discovered that connection for herself. She says of her journey through nursing school: “I was surprised to learn that I had been telling stories to my patients, drawing on my knowledge and experience from my literature degree to think of creative ways to communicate with patients based on their needs.”
In Peach, Glass’ characters become her patients, and we experience the world through Peach’s eyes. Peach’s need is to be believed, to be seen. And Glass gives her center stage.
The attention to detail and organic sound in individual syllables, twining and weaving in a mesmerizing dance, is unmistakably potent in Peach. From the very first sentence, Glass asserts her prowess and control of language, showing remarkable restraint in molding the most powerful images:
“Thick stick sticky sticking wet ragged wool winding around the wounds, stitching the sliced skin together as I walk, scraping my mittened hand against the wall. Rough red bricks ripping the wool. Ripping the skin. Rough red skin. Rough red head.”
The alliteration and assonance shape prose that demands the reader’s attention as they enter the world of the story and trust that the author is going to guide them through it carefully — if not safely.
The beauty of Glass’ language is that it balances more than just sounds and images; it balances insight and instability, and the ways that the two complement each other. The words reflect what’s at stake for Peach, the necessity of working through the aftermath of her rape.
Of making it from one day to the next. And to the next.
Language is one of the most potent ways to find meaning in the meaningless. When it comes to the physical body, the opportunities are endless. Glass continues in her article: “The tactility of nursing is unlike anything I’ve ever known. Marks on skin are mapped. Blood components are balanced. Drugs are dosed and delivered. Care is given and care is felt. Finally, closely felt.”
This same tactility is a trait she gives Peach in order for the character to make sense of her attack. Peach stitches herself up in the bathroom and reflects a connection to her body that tells her what must be done, a connection that someone has violated. “The skin is split. Slit. Sliced. With two trembling fingers I touch the split skin, hold the slit together. Blood drips delicately.” The last three words land heavily on the ear, with finality.
In an interview with the Guardian, Glass states, “I’m interested in what internalisation [sic] can do to a person. What the mind does if you hold on to certain experiences.” For Peach, it begins to eat away at her mind and grow in the pit of her stomach.
Allusions and metaphors are strong throughout Peach, and they can be taken as literally or as figuratively as the reader wants. The rapist is described as a sausage, with grease and stench and smears. Peach’s baby sibling, simply called Baby, dusts icing sugar. Her classmate Sandy deposits grains of salt and sand, while their teacher, Mr. Custard, molds himself into mounds. And her boyfriend, Green, tastes like twigs and shakes little leaves.
Green roots Peach and keeps her steady. One of my favorite chapters chronicles a moment where an attack has put Green in the hospital, and Peach is at his side in a beautiful transfer of places. The connection to body becomes a connection to Green’s body. Peach watches the blood drip into his vein and follows it:
“I shut my eyes and see black and red and white spots and soon I’m zooming off on a red spot, a red cell, an erythrocyte, sailing, surfing on a red sea…I see my red-cell friend through to the end. Touch him with thanks for his help and his hope and say I hope to see you soon in the glow of Green’s cheeks and then he will have a kiss.”
And her tree of strength, her Green, is different now: “He is softer than usual. Like a sapling, or a pile of wet leaves and soft sticks. He holds my hand, but his grip has gone and I feel like I am holding and he is held.”
Sometimes, the tree needs strength from the things it supports, when roots intertwine and connect and build until they cannot be divided. More than once while reading, I visualized a peach tree.
Peach’s story is one of survival and adaptability and the ways that we change when all we want to do is stay normal. It is a haunting melody of the little truths we notice when everything else feels like a lie. It is the way those truths change when we hold on so tightly that they begin holding onto us instead.
It is the lengths we take to preserve normality, to hide inside us the betrayals of the world, to keep believing in goodness somehow, somewhere. It is finding that goodness within us when we feel that those lengths we’ve gone to have changed us irrevocably.
[Editor's note: This review originally ran in 2018.]
Bryana Fern is from Tampa, Florida, where she received her undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida. She is a doctoral student in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she also received her master’s degree and teaches first-year composition. Her work can be found in Sou'wester, Product, Red Mud Review, Converge Magazine, and Women at Warp. One of her greatest ambitions in life is to return to London and see a Shakespeare tragedy in the Globe Theatre. Follow her at @bryanafern.