Off Keck Road

Mona Simpson, Author Alfred A. Knopf $19 (176p) ISBN 978-0-375-41010-9
Simpson (Anywhere But Here) casts her net lightly over the reader in her fourth, uncharacteristically slim work of fiction, a novella, attempting to engage with a quiet plot about emotionally passive protagonists and the risk of staying disconnected. The narrative follows the lives of three women from 1956 to the present in Green Bay, Wis. Bea Maxwell, a practical, efficient woman, seems to have inherited the steadfast, can-do traits of earlier Midwestern heroines found in the landscapes of Willa Cather. The quintessential overachiever in high school, Bea is equally successful during a brief stint working for an advertising agency in Chicago. In terms of love or any risky emotional connection, however, Bea is somehow missing the boat, apparently by choice. She easily gives up her job and returns to Green Bay when her mother contracts rheumatoid arthritis. Once home, she is drawn to June Umberhum, a college friend who grew up off Keck Road. June has returned from an early marriage and is raising a daughter. Always a bit of a town rebel, June puts forth an effort to taste life, while Bea's desires remain submerged. Also telescoped into the neighborhood scene is Shelley, a Keck Road girl who contracted a mild case of polio as a child. The connections between these three women are gentle and unforced. They pass through the years in the eddies of their own interiors as their community expands around them, but the narrative hovers more than it grips. Simpson's signature fine writing renders subtle quirks of character gently and realistically, and she again finds fresh ways of capturing the familiar. Readers who enjoy the ""day-in-the-average-life"" tales of Anne Tyler will find a similar tone here. The appeal of Simpson's previous books should elicit a good initial response to this one, and her somewhat subdued plot structure may attract readers eager for reflective fiction. 40,000 first printing. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2000
Release date: 10/01/2000
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0929-8
Hardcover - 978-0-7862-3242-0
Paperback - 180 pages - 978-0-375-70906-7
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