Peace: Detailed Summary

Peace at first sight seems to be the meandering recollections of an old man, Alden Dennis Weer, but if you read carefully, there are all kinds of secrets hidden in it.

This summary contains significant spoilers. If you have not read Peace, you should probably do so before continuing.

The Frame Story

The first sentence of the book is “The elm tree planted by Eleanor Bold, the judge’s daughter, fell last night.” It is not until you reach page 207 (Orb edition) that you discover where the tree was planted. Here Weer says, talking to Bill Batton, “Mrs. Porter? You heard her—she wants to plant a tree on my grave when I’m gone.” If you’ve been following closely, you will realize that Eleanor Bold’s married name is Porter. The elm tree was planted on Weer’s grave, and the book is being narrated by a ghost.

(There are interpretations of Peace that do not involve Weer being a ghost, but that he is remains the assumption in the vast majority of interpretations, and this will be taken as a given to simplify this summary.)

Weer doesn’t know he is a ghost. He appears to live in a “house” that has “museum rooms” interspersed with the functional rooms; these are significant rooms from other places which he knew when he was alive, and he says he directed the architect to build them into his house. When the book opens, he has been spending most of his time in a walled-in porch with a fireplace, where he cooks and sleeps. After the tree falls, Weer wanders through the other rooms of his “house,” eventually losing his way so that he is unable to find the walled-in porch again. What is going on here? There is a piece of American folklore which says that planting a tree on someone’s grave keeps their ghost from wandering. The closed-in porch isn't a museum room that Weer knew when he was alive, so what is it? The clue is given by its shape. The porch is “much longer than it is wide” and has a fieldstone fireplace at one end. It’s his coffin, with a headstone at one end. After the tree falls, he can wander, and haunt other “rooms” of his house.

The Interpolated Stories

The frame story, involving the ghost’s wandering, takes up a relatively small amount of the text. Most of the book is Weer’s recollections of incidents from his life, and stories which he had read or been told when he was alive. Many of these stories have extra significance; they reflect in some way his life or afterlife. The clearest example of this is possibly the story of the princess in a tower. In this story, which is unfinished, it is foretold that this princess will have four suitors, and will marry the fourth. Weer’s aunt Olivia also has four suitors, and the descriptions of the suitors in the tale match up with those of his aunt. Many, if not all, of the other stories also reflect Weer's life. Some of them can be understood to answer questions which are left unresolved by the frame story. The interpretation of several of these stories is still in dispute.

Here is a list of some of the interpolated stories, along with a page for each of them:

The Secrets and Crimes

There are a number of secrets (Easter eggs?) hidden in this book, as well as hidden crimes. Eventually we should list them.

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