Brief but thoroughly engaging, Peach by Joanne Green is the story of a young high school student struggling to come of age in the late 1960s while simultaneously working through the horror of what she uneasily calls “a rape thing.” What makes this story especially memorable is the voice of its narrator, Peach Sweeney. Growing up in an age of rapidly changing attitudes toward sex, drugs, and politics, Peach comes off as a latter-day female Holden Caulfield as she longs to march on Washington DC but gets stuck attending a button-down prom with a distant cousin. Also note worthy are Peach’s pithy turns of phrase. Her cousin’s old Thunderbird, for example, is described as a “four-wheeled saddle shoe,” while all of the boys at the prom “look like Easter eggs” and their dates “like toaster dolls.” Yet as witty as Peach is, the novel proceeds with the kind of sad, loving gravitas that naturally attends the loss of youth and coming of age. The result is a tiny book that is as charming as it is moving.
About halfway through Elizabeth Mosier’s The Playgroup, the narrator describes the struggle involved in turning the events of real life into fiction: “What intrigued me was reality: Sarah’s guilt over her brother’s death, Linda’s postpartum depression, Bryn given up for adoption, Maggie’s son found blue and still in his bassinet. Was it even possible, I wondered, to capture their losses in words?” Fittingly, it’s Mosier’s own gift for turning such losses into a sense of yearning that makes this work of fiction so compelling. Her characters are a handful of mothers whose uncertainty and ambivalence about motherhood is rivaled only by the pressure they feel to put on their best happy faces and pretend for the world that they know exactly what they’re doing at all times. Yet when a member of the group learns that the child she’s carrying may have developed a cancerous mass, the facade of perfection becomes almost impossible to sustain. The resulting crisis forces the members of the group to take stock of their lives and to come to terms, each in her own way, with the myth of the perfect mother.
The Playgroup is one of several titles in Gemma Media’s new Open Door series, a line of books designed to promote adult literacy. Participating in this endeavor, Mosier is in good company. Other Open Door authors include Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, and Maeve Binchy. While the narratives are short and the prose straightforward, the subject matter and themes of these works offer much to consider, as evidenced by Mosier’s honest, complex treatment of motherhood in The Playgroup. Indeed, if Mosier’s writing is any indication of the quality of other titles in the series, then the Open Door library is definitely worth checking out.
–Review by Marc Schuster