Nb: the quotes may be off a bit in punctuation etc. I went from memory.
Peach is a seemingly normal young woman. She's a "good girl" by her mother's estimation, a college student with a steady boyfriend who lives with her oddly sexual parents and her baby brother whom she adores. She's even a vegetarian. But the reader never meets that Peach. She meets Peach staggering home -- perseverating, incoherent, bloody, vomiting and in horrible pain.
This entire slim novel is present tense, stream-of-consciousness, and told to us by an extremely traumatized girl who sounds a lot like James Joyce (the author notes this herself at the end.) Joycean or no, it's a good portrayal of the way human brains deal with interpersonal trauma. Getting through the mundane "Get dressed, socks first...push swing door open, hear it swing shut -- swoosh", noticing the weather: "cold" -- detached from everything -- in complete survival mode, telling herself she will just "forget this" and move on.
I found her playing with sounds and repetitions of words interestingly poetic, though it's really just another way someone copes with an overloaded brain-body connection. It's much better than, say - muteness, for a book. and not unrealistic. The brain is a majestic thing that will do whatever it takes to get us through things nobody should have to live through.
"I want to say things but I don't know how to order the words. Sentences slither around my brain. Scattered words, scatterbrain, scattered semantics, scattered seeds..."
Peach denies herself any help - even medical, and we witness a young woman spiraling: instantly distant from her parents and boyfriend; uncomfortable with even the touch of her pet at times, then overwhelmed with love for these same beings she can't share her pain with. She lies to cover for her physical injuries; wishes she could tell her boyfriend Green, but can't get the words out; holds in bile, fakes having fun, tries to make her face look like it "should," goes through the motions of normal life while holding herself together literally and figuratively.
The damage doesn't end there. Her perpetrator, Lincoln, is not finished with Peach. He stalks her, professing his "love" in letters cut from tabloid papers. He feels completely entitled to come to her home, insist on his love for her, demand she not run away, remind her that he's watching, lingering outside her classes, barrage her with creepy letters and much worse. She starts to see him everywhere, but is this post-traumatic stress, or is he real? Peach imagines him as a greasy sausage, smells his putrid odor in the air, sees his greasy slime lingering in the air, on surfaces, windows and feels this greasy meaty mess invading her senses and body. She wonders if others can see what she sees, if her boyfriend hears her heart banging against her ribs?
She begins to see everyone as food stuffs (her very kind professor shakes his face, "showering the first row with splatters of custard" and proceeds to tell the class he's not "set yet." He is the only person who is sweet enough -- my word -- to notice she's in some sort of trouble, but she lets the opening slip past.) Her friend Sandy also notices something is wrong, but she's busy berating herself and wondering why he doesn't see her as she now does. She somaticizes her pain into an ever-distending stomach makes her instantly "fat" and never stops growing. She physically feels the sniggers of her classmates, she chokes on smells, she can't look at her teacher because he's "bright yellow and very shiny" custard. She's constantly being assaulted by her senses - another very real portrayal of trauma. Even the weather is constantly changing and unreliable.
Traumatic process is the entirety of this book, and it leaves the reader as discombobulated as the narrator. It's an extremely effective method to show how shock throws the mind into a complete tornado, despite outwardly being so "normal" that nobody else notices. Because she is acutely post-trauma, we are never sure how reliable this narrator is. We only have her word for what she is experiencing. This is especially true at the end of the novel. It feels like pure fantasy that Peach has devolved into, but since she's telling it, we know she believes it is true. And if it is, it's mighty macabre.
At first I didn't like the distance, then it just "clicked" -- oh, we're experiencing the same off-kilter perception/reality horror that happens to almost anyone who has just been shaken to their very core. Not everyone will have the same exact experience as Peach, but everyone will have their own unique experience. After I cottoned on to this, I was impressed with the way Emma Glass was able to sneak that past me. Lots of reviews have been unforgiving of this novel. I can see how it might seem contrived, but it feels very realistic to me, even if the events aren't "real" at all.
I'd imagine, if the novel had continued, what we'd see is some sort of eventual collapse, hospitalization and years of therapy. Maybe after all of that, we'd know what was real, but I doubt it, and frankly, I don't want to read all of that. This book is not really a book -- it's an experience.