Book: Daring to Eat a Peach
Author: Joseph Zeppetello
Published: 2010 by Atticus Books
First Line: “Fatally flawed people are plentiful.”
Rating: 2.67 literary translators working under a playboy pig
Recommended if you like: Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend this book. :(
A copy of this book was provided by Atticus Books. My sincere regrets to Dan Cafaro that I couldn’t give this book five stars, as he personally went to the trouble to get me a review copy.
In theory, Daring to Eat a Peach was a great fit for me. Right off the bat is the reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, which is one of my favorite poems of all-time. I also love a book about someone who is so interestingly fucked-up that he spawned an whole book’s worth of adventures. Add in that the book is small press and that the blurb compared Zeppetello to Raymond Carver? I was sold.
But I was not happy when I actually read the book.
There will be spoilers ahead.
I was okay until about page 19. That far in, Denton was a guy bogged down in routine. He had a good enough job, but the job came with considerable ass-pain in the form of his boss’s secretary, Deirdre. A translator, Denton was working on a project that involved figuring out a way to put the line “The blonde woman came to me / I fucked her again and again” poetically into English. He spoke briefly to the poet on the phone and I was intrigued. (Indeed, the poet ended up being one of the best characters in the book. More on that later.) Change seemed imminent. Indeed, the blurb promised some carpe diem-ing.
Then Peter showed up. Peter was a long-time friend of Denton’s and needed a place to crash. His entrance wasn’t terrible–it was fine, really, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t really believe their friendship; their dialogue seemed stilted and overly formal. I didn’t get excited about Peter being there, even though he was clearly supposed to be the catalyst for Denton taking his life by the horns. Peter was a Guy Who Had Adventures.
Instead of turning Denton’s life upside down, Peter got a job and a Toyota. The two friends settled into a comfortable life of double dates with a coworker of Denton’s and her friend. Everyone involved was stand-offish and not really very passionate about the relationships. Even when Denton sneaked out the morning after he fucked his girlfriend for the first time, she just sort of shrugged and forgave him after being nominally mad.
Wha? Where’s the day-seizing? Where’s (checks blurb) the “series of watershed events”? Most things that happened in the book didn’t seem particularly life-altering. Even when Denton loses his job, he literally gets another job the next day doing exactly the same thing he did at his last job: translating poet Serge Krakow’s work. Denton’s big life changes by the end of the book are that he is in a relationship that I would describe as lukewarm at best, and also, his new boss isn’t a bitch.
I don’t think Zeppetello captured the spirit of Eliot’s poem. Prufrock, unlike Denton, shook with anticipation of what could be. If only he dared. And Prufrock was struck with deep, existential fear: “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid.” Prufrock was a held breath away from changing his whole life.
Denton? Not so much with the anticipating or the seizing of the day or the fear. Denton shrugs his way through the book almost as though he can’t be bothered. There was one point where I thought he might have some emotional growth–his dad died and he was forced to come to terms with his Wicked Stepmom who actually turned out to be a pretty nice lady and all–and then, inexplicably, Zeppetello picked the next moment to devote three chapters to a character that we hadn’t previously met. When we return to Denton, he’s back to being the same comfortably-domesticated dude he’s been all along.
An issue that contributed to Denton’s stunted growth was that Zeppetello kept switching points of view. We got to see life from Peter’s point of view, and Denton’s girlfriend Judy’s, and Peter’s girlfriend Rita’s, and a few other minor characters. Maybe 3/4 of the way through the book, it switches point of view to a throw-away character, which frustrated me. Telling everyone’s story prevented Zeppetello from developing any of them, most of all his main character who supposedly “fail[s] in elegantly profound ways.” (Spoiler: Denton doesn’t really face massive failure and actually has a pretty nice go of it despite his dad dying and all.)
Not much happens after that–oh, wait, Peter dies. Which made me angry–not because I cared about Peter, but because I did not care about Peter and I should have. Denton didn’t seem to care that much, either. Got a lil choked up at the funeral. I also felt like Peter dying was kind of a cheap shot at making anything significant happen in the book–but it’s only significant if the rest of the book supports it, and it doesn’t.
This book could have been titled, “Daring to Eat a Peach, but Only If I Haven’t Already Eaten Too Much and if Peaches Are Not Too Expensive Right Now, Are They Even in Season and Also Is It Organic? I Don’t Even Know If I Like Peaches.” And then there’s Peter, who nibbled delicately on the peach and keeled over from an un-diagnosed severe peach allergy.
What could have been the best part of the book doesn’t even pan out. In the beginning, the poet mid-morning-drunkenly answers the phone and tells Denton to translate the line about fucking the blonde woman exactly how he wrote it. “What are you, a fucking critic?” Serge asks. He and Denton are immediately at odds, and Serge is clearly a Guy Who Has Adventures. He, not Peter, should have been the one to pull Denton out of his rut when they are forced together in the name of creating literature. He should have led Denton astray, pushed him to grow. Denton should have lived and loved and ached and felt anything, and maybe ended up in jail.
Sigh. That’s a book I could have loved.