The Book of Peach
Penelope J. Stokes
Berkley, Aug 3 2010, $15.00
She grew up under the boring auspices of her mother and grandmother who insisted she be a “Southern Lady” at all times. Priscilla Bell Posner “Peach” Rondell envied the freedom of being ignored by the matriarchs that her brother Harry had and the ease of her much older sister Melanie seemed to adapt to being another iron maiden. The first chance she got to escape from Chulahatchie, Mississippi and their home Belladonna, Peach did.
Now twenty-three years later, divorced from Robert after two plus decades of marriage, the former Miss Mississippi runner-up has come home following the advice of her white-hair shrink to confront her mommy demons. She uses a journal to write down her thoughts as escapism from her widow mom who has not changed one iota from her adherence to the Southern Lady rules of public behavior. She also begins an affair with soon to be divorced Charles Chase whom she met at the Piggily Wiggly fruit aisle. However, Peach finds the most solace at the Heartbreak Cafe, where she writes her musings and becomes a member of a motley crew who would be unacceptable to mom.
The Book of Peach returns readers to the same setting as the Heartbreak Café (the latter’s star Dell makes key appearances in this tale too) in a satirical often jocular regional family drama. The bittersweet humorist journal kept by Peach in her second Mississippi run enables the reader to understand her childhood and the exclusive membership requirements of being a Southern Lady, which the lead protagonist admits she failed at because of displaced compassion. Although at times the story line can slows down the pace of sipping mint juleps, Penelope J. Stokes provides insight into a regional subculture maintained subtly by Steel Magnolias.