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Off Keck Road
by Mona Simpson
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375709061, Paperback)Off Keck Road seems an off-putting title for a book--just try saying it out loud. But that might be the point. Mona Simpson, celebrated author of Anywhere but Here, The Lost Father, and A Regular Guy, has written a novel about life's left-behinds. Her characters are people no one really wants, and Keck Road, in a dingy Wisconsin suburb, is a place where no one wants to live. Simpson's story follows tenderhearted Bea Maxwell, daughter of one of Green Bay's leading families, as she befriends first one, then another of the road's residents. Bea herself hails from a fancier part of town, where as a teenager in the 1950s she is busy and happy and not quite like everyone else: "It was as if adolescence--that new word that everyone all of a sudden knew--was a contagion Bea somehow had not caught. She agreed with her reasonable parents that dieting yourself half to death was dangerous. She found high heels ridiculous. She ate casseroles and desserts with the abandon of a ten-year-old boy." Bea never does pair up with anyone, boy or man, and her virginity, as imagined by Simpson, is a lifelong, defining condition: it "seemed an erectness in her posture, something symmetrical, silver."
Bea compensates for her lack of love by weaving a tight web of equally not-quite-the-thing friends: Bill, the divorced boss at the real estate agency where she works; June, a single mom; Matthew, a priest; and finally, Shelley, uneducated, clever, a polio survivor. A dual portrait emerges: Simpson shows us a gossipy, exclusionary Midwestern town. And she shows us, in full, Bea, a character who teeters between the conventional (golfer, broker of the year, board member at the church) and the off-beat. The author never forces Bea into the unlikely role of heroine, nor does she judge her curious circle of friends. In the end, Simpson's warts-and-all rendering has a real humanity to it. --Claire Dederer
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:44 -0400)
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