Calder Willingham’s TO EAT A PEACH

Calder Willingham

To Eat a Peach

Mayflower-Dell, 1966 reprint (original printing 1955)

Calder Willingham is a sarcastic creep and that’s why I like him. This is a novel of summer camp sexual tension as written by the biggest jerk this side of Pluto and it’s deeply funny. No “couple” here belongs together (I put “couple” in quotes because most of these pairings never quite get the plug to reach the socket). The thirtysomething married woman who lusts after a 19-year-old slab of brainless beefcake who merely thinks that she’s acting like his mom could be the most hopeless case. Then, there’s the 46-year-old camp second-in-command who can’t stop thinking about the shapely teenage girl who’s there to mind the horse stable. Meanwhile, when that girl isn’t riding horses daily (double entendre alert!), she’s got an adversarial-slash-flirtatious thing going on with a frustrated bohemian kid who writes the camp newsletter and suppresses his godless, anti-authority, ticking-time-bomb personality for the job. When sex does happen here it’s… nothing much. Just meat slapping against meat. It’s a climax that isn’t much of one. How things change (or not change) afterward is what matters. It’s what Willingham, that jerk, leaves us trying get a grip on at the end.

This is one of the good “dirty books” of the 1950s. It was too puerile to be seen as serious literature, but too well-written, too full of character and with not enough raw sex to be pornography. Some readers in the 1950s probably kept this hidden from polite company. In 2017, its wicked sense of humor keeps it readable. I blew through it in two days.