Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-375-41010-4
The Green Bay Road of Mona Simpson’s novella Off Keck Road carries striking similarities with the Lime Kiln Road of her debut novel, Anywhere But Here, a road within the boundaries of Bay City, Wisconsin, which is so similar to Green Bay that it probably is. In the novella, protagonist Bea Maxwell returns to the town and stays, while in Anywhere But Here, our protagonist leaves.  
      The gossipy, economic prose renders the town effectively and without fanciful literal terms. And the low-key plot, which lacks major traumatic events, demonstrates the heart of the novella: a town where nothing happens; the spare, unique everyday lives are rendered in a way that gives the residents an every-little-thing-matters approach towards life.  
      The novella moves ahead and back in time, beginning in 1956 and moving into the present. Bea, having grown up in Green Bay, moves to Chicago to work for an advertising agency, but shortly returns after her mother is ill. Her disconnected, strange love for her town (and the people in it) leaves the reader wanting Bea to do more with her life, although one suspects she won’t. Sadly, the people surrounding Bea in Green Bay are her staples, and Ms. Simpson’s movement in and out of their lives can leave the reader confused at times, trying to decipher who’s who. But deeper into the novel, as one becomes familiar with the town and its residents, it’s hard to believe one would ever be bemused. Perhaps that is a strength in the novella; the reader becomes attached as the read continues.  
      After her return, Bea reunites with her college friend, June Umberbum, a single mother who was raised off Keck Road. Also in the picture is Shelley, a polio survivor, another Keck Road chum. The lives of these women are portrayed independently and in relation to Bea, intertwining in various ways. Bill, Bea’s co-worker at the real estate agency, also filters through her life as well as the lives of June and Shelley. But though Bea forms a tight bond with these people, she still seems lost.  
      The uneventful, yet emotionally compelling nature of Off Keck Road is what makes it fly. Ms. Simpson paints the town just the way it is, and since the characters and locations of Anywhere But Here and Off Keck Road are so alike, the gossipy nature of the people of Keck Road gives one a better understanding why Adele of Anywhere But Here decides to leave.