When experimental writing wallows in its own writing class attempts at cleverness and quirky poetic ‘ripping up of all the known rules’, it runs the very real risk of disenfranchising the reader. One ought to be wary of such offerings already plastered on front and back covers and on its opening pages with high praise to the author’s ‘utterly singular’, ‘scintillating’, ‘daring’ writing. It is a high bar. In this case, the comments prove far too high to reach, in truth.
Peach (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) begins with the punch of a predatory attack on the eponymously named female narrator and follows the shock ramifications of this crime thereafter, but it dissolves into a messy quagmire of soggy words and ideas. On the penultimate page, there is the suggestion that, amongst other heavily laboured analogies and metaphors, the ‘all that may have seemed’ is, in fact, embedded in the possibility of a crassness: the story as vehicle for the possibility of something else entirely. Nothing is entirely clear in Emma Glass’ sometimes surrealist narrative.
The young Peach grows bigger in the belly, but she is not pregnant: neither by her attacker, named only as Lincoln, nor by her boyfriend, known as Green. At the centre of a peach is a stone, and so it is with Peach, in the pit of her stomach. Glass seems to love her continual word play. Green is a tree: or rather, all his actions and gestures and his physical stature are written as such. He is forever, and nauseatingly, kissing Peach on the top of her head. All Glass’ loosely named characters are rendered in such ways as Peach and Green: Mr Custard, Peach’s biology lecturer at college, slumps to the floor in the fashion of his name, and Glass crosses the line here between analogy and aptronymic absurdity masquerading as some distorted reality; Spud is Green’s friend and is depicted, physically, as one would expect of someone with such a name, causing a heavy-footed commotion of furniture when he enters a cafe, which no-one else cares to be concerned by; Sandy is a friend of Peach’s, depicted as shedding sand in his devotion to her; Trunk is a stout lifeguard, Hair Netty a hairy cook. Lincoln’s name seems derived from the image of links of sausages.
The image of sausages is a repeated motif and central factor throughout. Peach feels grease-stained but the motif repeat, ad nauseum, obliterates the gravity of the opening. Justification for such readerly feeling springs forth in the ridiculous final scenes. By this stage, however, acceptance of the experimental non-reality, which has shifted to the quirky and sometimes queasy surreality, has become just a desire to slip through to the final page of this very short offering and out the other side, back into the stable world. Glass’ characters are shapeless ideas, even with her fanciful naming convention; her unnamed, as such, characters are cardboard at best — Peach’s parents (sex-focused, overly-liberal, embarrassments) and her baby brother (given the name of, simply, Baby, as in Jelly, with accompanying textures).
Glass’ writing does occasionally hit a short moment of exquisite poetry, but such moments are few and far between. There is far too much clumsiness that tries too hard to be different, clever or lyrical that follows. When her sentences work, Glass produces a fine thread such as: ‘The moon has swapped with the sun and is climbing a silver string of stars to the centre of the sky.’ Very soon after this, however, she ruins the reading light with: ‘He’s chewing on something that looks chewy.’ Elsewhere, Peach looks down on her baby brother and Glass captures this beautifully with: ‘He doesn’t stir. I smile at his peace and think a simple blessing. He feels it fall upon him and smiles without waking.’ Before the end of the page, however, the elegant beauty has disappeared with the line that is: ‘I put the shower on, make the water hot . . .’ There are plenty of examples on offer, such as these above, that one might reasonably describe as juvenile level. This is not to denigrate the writing of many children who, on the contrary, can often deliver a great proficiency in description of ideas. Glass writes, for example, as Peach sinks underwater in a swimming pool, ‘Tangy on my tongue, the memory comes flooding back, flowing, flooding flood in my lungs, stopped up, tight fright water-tight.’
She appears to be a great lover of alliteration, which can be worked well in the right hands. In Glass’ hands, the alliterative impact is either clunky (‘The jam in the jam pot jiggles. Cutlery is clattering. The table trembles. Green grins . . .’) or it is a deafening cacophony rather than a subtle textual slightness:
Sentences slither around my brain. Scattered words. Scatterbrained. Scatter sentences. Scattered semantics. Scattered seeds. Scatter my brains.
When she combines her alliterations with a deadening rhyme of closely following words, the overall effect is ungainly and graceless: ‘to rake the blade over the fuzz of my flesh, feel the sharp edge . . . The edge. The edge I am on, I am on edge, standing on a ledge . . .’ There are other unnecessary appendages to sentences such as: ‘I’m already naked so I don’t undress.’ There is an increasingly dispiriting fondness for verb forms of nouns immediately following those nouns, such as in: ‘Silvery silhouettes silhouetted by the glowing green lights . . .’ or ‘Spores sporing, pouring.’
Perhaps Glass’ greater writing sins, under the protective guise of writing experimentation, come with barbarous acts such as: ‘I feel for the thread. And. Pull.’ Similarly, there is: ‘I suck my last breath in. Shut my eyes and. Sink. [sic]’ Perhaps worse still, she writes:
And, oh. In goes the air that clings to the hairs in my nose, the air freezing in my throat, the air that makes me choke. Choke. The smell. Of. Smoke. Barbecued pork. I smell pork. Pork smoke forking my nose, filling my throat. I choke. I choke. I choke. He is here.
Peach is a lauded offering, according to the many lines of praise printed on its covers and innards, which compliment its fresh and visceral content. However, whilst writing experimentation and newness of form are not, in and of themselves, wholly unacceptable to the seasoned reader, clumsy execution should not come as part of the package. Peach is, unfortunately, dry and lacking.