by w.s. barton
I received an advanced readers copy of the book, Peach, by the author W. S. Barton. Because of a brain injury several years ago, I cannot read Kindle books or look at screens for long periods of time and Barton was kind enough to mail me a physical copy from the U.K. Knowing about my illness, he warned me the type was very different and he wouldn’t want me to struggle to read. I assured him all would be fine and then my jaw dropped when I saw this book was printed in an unbelievably small font (perhaps 3-point) with room above and below each line for comments and corrections. I started reading knowing I would NEVER finish the 500+ pages as it was just too difficult for my poor brain. A few chapters in and I knew I would not stop without knowing how Peach ended. It is that good.
Barton is unique as a writer in that he uses words the way a painter uses colors. Every sentence has meaning and adds to a picture created in the mind of the reader. And it is beautiful. Reading at night next to my sleeping husband, I often had to stop myself from reading aloud as Barton’s writings deserve to be spoken out loud for the brain to truly absorb the beauty of his pen.
Barton writes for readers – those who truly invest themselves in the plot and characters created. Peach isn’t a lightweight beach read to be read quickly and just as easily forgotten. This is a novel that will own your soul while you absorb it, and for many days after you are finished.
The story of Freddie Ward is an onion with layers requiring a slow peel. One chapter is full of life, excitement, possibilities as the song writer and musician begins a fast paced life with an industrious and companionable new love, Ailie. Their story, at the start, is like many new beginnings and pulls you in and then….the next chapter leaves the reader guessing as to what has happened. What has changed that even the words in your head come out maudlin and heavy and you can’t go faster to discover the …. tragedy? Surely it must be a tragedy because a life full of rainbows and unicorns would not merit a 500 page novel. Keep in mind I read this as an arc, with that small font, so the final published work will likely be shorter.
Freddie did of course alter his history, reacting to a loss by sabotaging the relationship which had spurred him from neer’-do-well busker to up and coming song writer. At the first opportunity, his poor decision making left him alone and on a plane to the fields of Idaho to work for an aging, former singing sensation. Peach is a novel about finding oneself and redefining self perception and appreciation.
Peach isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s heavy; life questioning, introspective. There is death, dying, soul searching …. and at the age of 52, an orphan child with children who have outgrown my parenting, I found myself sad during periods of this story. When in despair, one of the characters says, “What is this life? What is this life?”, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a conversation rather than an uninvolved person reading about fictional people. Again, this is from the arc and quotes can be cut or altered in the final version.
Much of this story is set in Idaho and centers around young Freddie at the start of his life, afraid to commit and convinced of his own valuelessness. His employer Hal had a successful career, but a personal life of emptiness after becoming a widower at a far too young age. Now facing death, Hal shares his life with the young songwriter and through their long talks, the reader inevitably must examine his own life. This is a heavy novel but well worth the time and emotion the reader will invest.
Freddie is a man who moves in and out of relationships with blurred lines and complications. Barton’s writing ability is such that the reader isn’t a disinterested third party, but an emotionally connected member of each relationship. And, as in real life, bumps in the road cause heartache. Just as I thought Freddie was catching a bit of good luck, things would change…and it made me sad. I found myself reading this book with my breath held, and grief at the ready. Time passed, my own life was on my mind while I lived in this novel and I’m once again impressed by the ability of Barton to create visual worlds which draw a reader into the story.