The title of Daring To Eat A Peach was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and in theory, Joseph Zeppetello’s debut novel is also about middle-aged people trying to break out of inertia and improve their lives. But in reality, the novel, which follows two men dealing with the end of major relationships and long careers, seems to be an excuse for Zeppetello to complain. The book’s well-off, intellectual characters sit around watching local news, reality TV shows, police procedurals, and commercials apparently just to gripe about their quality. A character is introduced for a complaint about the quality of American public high-school teachers, then disappears permanently. Another character, mentioned in passing throughout the book, gets his own late chapters as an avenue for exploring corruption in Africa, and to share Zeppetello’s philosophy that men are better with the love of a good woman. The story is littered with diatribes and quick barbs at the cost and efficacy of therapy, American paranoia about immigrants, the War On Drugs, and Christian fundamentalists. A conversation at a Thai restaurant turns into an info-dump about the country’s sex trade. Just a glance at a coffee mug with a corporate logo causes a character to muse “that was corporate America for you—tacky, self-absorbed, acting like a spoiled child.”

Zeppetello’s goal seems to be to produce plausible dialogue, following the flows of conversation from one topic to another, and inserting the sort of humor found between old friends and strangers on a first date. But he rarely succeeds in making it feel organic. A hard-bitten investigative journalist in a car alone with his best friend says “Like fun you don’t.” The girlfriend of a translator who’s just started working from home tells him “As Maxwell Perkins put it when one of his writers asked how to keep depression at bay, he told him, ‘Get dressed.’”

Even outside the dialogue, the text is filled with unnecessary details and weak writing. Rather than just having two characters order cocktails, Zeppetello notes that they do it because the diner they’re visiting has a liquor license. At another point, he writes “Allie’s strong environmentalist streak now manifested itself” before the character launches into a rant about SUVs. Daring To Eat A Peach was ostensibly inspired by a classic piece of writing, but it’s an entirely unworthy homage.