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Off Keck Road Hardcover – October 17, 2000

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (October 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375410104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375410109
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,470,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mona Simpson was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, then moved to Los Angeles as a young teenager. Her father was a recent immigrant from Syria and her mother was the daughter of a mink farmer and the first person in her family to attend college. Simpson went to Berkeley, where she studied poetry. She worked as a journalist before moving to New York to attend Columbia's MFA program. During graduate school, she published her first short stories in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review and Mademoiselle. She stayed in New York and worked as an editor at The Paris Review for five years while finishing her first novel. Anywhere But Here. After that, she wrote The Lost Father, A Regular Guy and Off Keck Road.

Her work has been awarded several prizes: a Whiting Prize, a Guggenheim, a grant from the NEA, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Lila Wallace Readers Digest Prize, a Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, a Pen Faulkner finalist, and most recently a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She worked ten years on My Hollywood. "It's the book that took me too long because it meant too much to me," she says.

Mona lives in Santa Monica with her two children and Bartelby the dog.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Laura Canon on January 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Enjoyed is perhaps not strong enough. But let's just say that I finished the book at 4:45 pm and now it's 5:08 and I'm online typing the review. There are a few small problems - at first I couldn't keep the characters straight and towards the end the book dawdles a little. But what strikes me is that this is the kind of book I really really like but never seem to be able to find. Few writers are interested in the ordinary lives of people and few writers have the ability to write about them in a way that makes them interesting. She writes well and that makes the book move.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
At first it seemed odd to me that a novel that spans a lifetime is less than 200 pages long. However, after I finished the book it became clear that its short length is in keeping with the quiet, but interesting lives of the characters.
Bea and Shelley are two women from "opposite sides of the tracks," but as single women they share outsider status in their community. Bea's mother does not appreciate her daughter's good qualities until the end of her life, focusing instead on Bea's lack of a husband and children; she prefers her self-centered, indifferent older daughter because she is a wife and a mother and therefore more socially acceptable. Shelley's mother is a less developed character than Bea's mother, but it is clear that she thinks along similar lines.
Simpson has accomplished something that seems rare in fiction: the portrayal of unmarried women as fully realized human beings instead of as caricatures.
Don't read this novel if you're looking for a lot of action. It is a character-driven book, not a plot-driven one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By RP Webster on February 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mona Simpson is one of the few authors I have read who say more by what they leave out than what they include. Bea, the center of this tale, makes a pass at a priest. This pass is depicted in two sentences. The rest is a blank page. There's an exquisite sulleness in the silence of this book. It's probably too praising to say that, as the book cover exclaims, Simpson is "the voice of her generation." But she certainly is the voice of her region--the upper midwest, where nothing much exciting happens, but the human spirit is no less stifled, tortured, starved, challenged. Simpson's description of Green Bay rivals in poignancy Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway's ponderings of Trifalgar Square, and the surrounding urban London land/mindscapes. It could be considered a deficiency that Simpson never allows a moment to grow, or a character to take root in the reader's mind like Woolf or Faulkner so effectively do through their sweeping prose. Simpson doesn't want to be a poet. She tells the story in a straight, dry, yet no less powerful way, mimicking the dry lives of those characters who float in and out of her terse chapters. I was fooled a bit by her Reader's Digest style of writing; it wasn't until about page one hundred that I realized Simpson could delve deep without appearing to do so. Her writing is deceptively simple. But she didnt have to wait until page one hundred to cease holding out on me. I agree with the other reviewer who said that the writing was good but nothing special. For the most part, it doesnt compare to the classics. Its style prevents that. But Simpson does delve, can tell a profound story, but usually in twenty five words or less. And for some of us, who've cut our teeth on authors whose style sweeps over our consciousness, creating an intricate universe in sentences two or more pages long, this may be hard to accept. Still, brilliantly understated, if a little too much so.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on March 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Off Keck Road chronicles Bea Maxwell, daughter of a well-to-do family in Green Bay,Wisconsinand her journey apart from the expectations of her times. Bea is never openly rebellious, in fact she is passive, floating from one reaction to another. As her life unfolds (almost without any direction from Bea, she simply reacts to what life doles out) she collects a group of the cast offs of the town, people who reside on and near Keck Road. I was really put off the passive tone of the book, found it hard to follow. The characters are well-drawn, but not people you really are drawn to. The wonderful writing is weakened by the fact that you can't muster up too much concern or interest in thse people. A real let down, especially following the previous books by Mona Simpson.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Mitchell on May 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A huge fan of Mona Simpson's writing in Anywhere but Here, I find her talent as a writer exceptional and her ability to portray the intricacies of human nature insightful and touching. I had high hopes for the short novella that lay between the adorable cover of Off Keck Road, and the front flap describing the story as a coming of age story, of friends and the ups and downs of a small town life. Off Keck Road left me somewhat disappointed.
The story centered around Bea, a woman who grew up in Green Bay, left for a short time during college and briefly after, returns to her home town where she cares for her mother and develops a career and niche for herself. We also get a brief glimpse into the life of Shelley, a Keck Road resident who struggles with a sense of identity in her family and experiments a bit with love and physicality with men. Perhaps I would have enjoyed the story more if I could have gotten closer to the characters, if we were more clued in with feelings, dreams, disappointments. Simpson touched the surface at times, but I never quite got a connection with them. At times the writing was choppy and the characters hard to keep track of. I went back and read it a second time and enjoyed it a bit more, but overall it left me with a sense that the story was not fully developed. I will still read more by Simpson, but would recommend Anywhere but Here.
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