Wednesday, May 1, 2013

peach pepper milk

Images via treesandempathy (photo credit unknown; painting is "Odette" by Ryan Pickart)

At the moment, I'm finding it difficult to do anything other than read Meg Wolitzer's wonderful The Interestings. I just read this paragraph, and wanted to share:
At night during that weekend in Underhill, Jules and Ash lay together in her bed, with Ash's head against the footboard. Many years later, they would lie across other beds with their children playing all around them, and it was a relief to know that even in getting older and splitting off into couples and starting families, you could still always come together in this way that you'd learned to do when you were young, and which you would have a taste for over your entire life. Ash, up close in Jules's bed in Underhill, having performed a series of elaborate nighttime ablutions in the house's single, peach-colored bathroom, now smelled milky and peppery at once. Maybe the soap she'd brought with her from the city was called Pepper Milk, Jules thought as she grew sleepy. Whatever it was, anyone would want to be around that smell, to drink it in from a girl if they couldn't drink it in from a bottle.
This one small smell moment is such an elegant evocation of some of the concerns of the book: class anxiety (Jules's single bathroom vs. Ash's sophisticated city soap), the overlapping intimacies of teenage friendship and desire, longing in general (to drink another in! to consume someone, in as many ways you can), and beauty (Ash is remarkably beautiful; Jules is not). Even though peach is the color of the bathroom, and not named as a smell, it falls in the olfactory mix for me, perhaps in part because peach--gleamy, smothering, plastic peach--was an important fragrance in my own adolescence, an early smell I remember seeking out, finding sexy and gorgeous and strange. This one choice--peach--makes the passage so much more potent: downy skin, juice & flesh, a mysterious stone. All of this along with the creamy, innocent/nurturing notions we have of milk, and the bracing spice of pepper makes this a standout moment for me in a book brimming with them. I'm not even halfway through and already I find myself slowing down (pausing to write this post, for example), wanting badly for this book, and my time with these characters, not to end.

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