on Peach Pit: Sixteen Stories of Unsavory Women, edited by Molly Llewellyn and Kristel Buckley

The subtitle of Peach Pit makes it clear what this fiction anthology promises: an array of portrayals of “unsavory” women who misbehave, who refuse to fit into the neat tropes media has so long relegated them to: virgin, whore, mother, old maid. In the editors’ note, Llewellyn and Buckley write, “a woman who doesn’t fit these classifications doesn’t exist.” And so, Peach Pit helps birth such women into the world. It is an anthology that delivers on its promise and more in a dazzling set of sixteen stories by a highly acclaimed and diverse set of writers. 

Peach Pit is a delight, brimming with women you hate to love and love to hate, women you’ll root for and cry for, women you’ll yearn to be, and women you’ll never want to meet. Women who swallow ink, who commune with flies and fungi, who wear top-of-the-line faux women skin over their own, who refuse to be sorry.

Inspired by the tempting misbehavior of Peach Pit’s many protagonists, I’ll begin this review with a passage from the anthology’s ending. In Lauren Groff’s “Amaranth,” after a girl witnesses her father’s death, she engages in self-destructive behaviors that are more about punishing her mother than wallowing in her own grief and trauma. After a year of seeing a doctor, he tells her, “I think you are making a point, but I don’t know what point it is. Please. I ask you, tell me.” As a reader of Peach Pit, you sometimes feel a lot like this doctor. As the stories of unsavory women accumulate, you suspect there is a point being made, but you don’t know what it is. You might find yourself begging its writers, its editors to please tell you, but they’ll reveal no unifying claim, no central thesis. And there lies Peach Pit’s brilliance. Where such a focused theme could feel too didactic, too narrow and diminishingly simple, this anthology delivers instead a diverse array of ruminations that pose questions with no simple answers. There are no easy representations here about agency, trauma, strength, and morality. Instead these stories represent women as they truly are: complex and conflicted. Independent and controlled. Fearless and afraid. In short: women who are human. 

For all its radical play and subversive behavior, Peach Pit is a conscientiously constructed anthology. It opens with a series of unflinching, voice-driven stories that disrupt normal modes of storytelling. In the opening piece, “Fuckboy Museum” by Deesha Philyaw, a Black woman begins to kill men for wasting her time. This piece intersperses traditional narrative between potential artifacts that could belong to a museum exhibit (a “fuckboy museum”), including transcripts from Starbucks conversations, text messages, Urban Dictionary entries, dating app conversations, even an excerpt from a detective report. This story immediately shows us that tales of unsavory women can’t always be told in the well-behaved and traditional forms we often expect. 

The second story, K-Ming Chang’s “Caller,” is formally traditional, but plays with time in curious and satisfying ways. As a Taiwanese woman recalls her experience becoming infatuated with a female scam caller, Chang flits expertly through time, which slightly unhinges the story’s sense of reality and logic. For instance, in the opening paragraph, we move through at least four moments in time, beginning with the narrator’s first meeting with the scam caller, then shifting swiftly to a future moment of their relationship: “She laughed again, and her voice over the phone sounded like it was being siphoned somewhere else at the same time. I loved this about her. I was always in her periphery, even when I was straddling her, my breast in her mouth.” The story then moves to the present time, before zooming back into the past to recall a specific incident with her father and other memories that followed. Although we get only glimpses of what lures the narrator toward the scam caller, the disorienting jumps through time create a destabilizing and dreamlike landscape that satisfies through the experience of it, leaving little room to be bothered about what drives the narrator. An unsavory woman can’t always be explained logically; sometimes she is impulse and whim, desire and dream.

Other pieces toward the beginning of Peach Pit continue to misbehave as stories, subverting expectations about what fiction is or can be, but perhaps none do so more than “Aquafina” by Chana Porter. In some ways, it is a simple story of love between two women, a tale of friendship and manic-pixie-dream-girl admiration. Except, one of these women is an Aquafina water bottle. Except, this story doesn’t look much like a story at all, for instead of paragraphs there are twenty-nine stanza-filled sections. This piece mixes the language-driven pleasure of poetry with the sustained-narrative satisfaction of a short story in a voice that is so fresh and spunky, I need only to include its opening lines for you to get a taste of it: “Girl, you are a water bottle / and also a stone cold B.”

Whereas many of the opening stories feel more like snapshots, vivid bursts of experience that offer limited resolution, the stories that appear later in the collection feel more resolved, with clearer and fuller narrative arcs. Megan Gidding’s “A Scholarship Opportunity” begins as a playfully structured series of responses to a questionnaire for a contest about being the “Worst Girl,” but ends with a touching mother-daughter scene that feels like a real coming-of-age moment. “Manifestation” by Sarah Rose Etter offers two perspectives of a chance encounter between one woman who has a near-perfect, privileged life, and one who doesn’t. The first, privileged perspective is interesting on its own, but it’s the second point of view, which is told in one sprawling, paragraphs-long sentence, that truly creates a haunting story. Also, the writing is so beautiful and impactful, I found myself rereading and luxuriating over passages like:

I could feel everything: volcanoes erupting in distant lands, trees growing in the jungle, the bursting forth of rain across the long plains of the west, the very stars above our heads burning their light years away, galaxies collapsing and colliding and devouring each other, and there I was with nothing, nothing at all.

I’m bursting to discuss more stories, like the one about a woman who controls the necrobiome, or the one about a teen girl who summons the devil (a woman) through masturbation, or to discuss Lauren Groff’s story in more detail. I will say this: it is last for a reason. But I don’t want to spoil the mysteries for you, future reader. I’ll behave for now, even if the women in this anthology would urge me otherwise. But do know that for anyone who likes a bit of mischief, this is an anthology not to be missed.


Peach Pit: Sixteen Stories of Unsavory Women. Edited by Molly Llewellyn and Kristel Buckley. Ann Arbor, MI: Dzanc Books, 2023. 230 pp. $16.95.


Michelle Donahue has prose published or forthcoming in Shenandoah, Passages North, Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. Her reviews have been published in Quarterly West, The Adroit Journal, and The Rumpus. She is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she is associate editor of Ecotone. Her work has been supported by the Kentucky Foundation for Women.