Mona Simpson   Off Keck Road  
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interview with mona simpson

Read an excerpt from Off Keck Road


In Off Keck Road, Mona Simpson conjures the life of a small town called Green Bay through the charms and challenges of two contrasting women from the '50s through the '80s. Bea grows from a spirited but focussed college-bound girl to a self-sufficient businesswoman who has left a promising advertising career in Chicago to tend to her mother's worsening arthritis. She is the daughter of the town's most prominent doctor and grew up in a grand house. Shellie was a tomboyish girl from off Keck Road who survived a mild dose of polio and spent much of her youth in devotion to her grandmother and, following her grandmother's death, knocking around with odd jobs and vague attachments.

Their lives come together through Bill Alberts, the town's leading real estate developer who employs Bea as an agent and, later, Shellie as a personal attendant. They each experience him as a suitor but neither is destined to know the splendor of romantic love in the course of this novella.

Their essential solitariness is the common bond between these women. It is presented for Bea first as a question when she is young and without a crush and then a concern as she grows into middle age and lastly as a freedom when her would-be suitor dies and she can shed her awkwardness and put the matter to rest. Shellie has always had the intuition that there was only one great dose of love for her and she knew it was coming from her grandmother. Her life isn't a series of diminishing expectations but of modest self-reliance and native intelligence. She is thus less lonely and more content and apparently unconflicted. As long as there is something for her to do, she will stay in Green Bay but when there isn't, she'll move with no greater destination in mind than a town with better-tasting water.

Simply and with the accumulative details of old-time restaurants and holiday shop windows, back roads and bridge clubs, skating parties and high school dances, Simpson builds tangible life into the town of Green Bay. But it is Bea and Shellie, the characters who live their lives with the least accompaniment, who reveal the community of its residents with the emotional warmth and clarity that make a town a hometown and that make this story ring true.

In this issue of Bold Type you will find an interview with Mona Simpson about the Midwestern town she knew as a child and an excerpt from Off Keck Road.

--Catherine McWeeney
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  Photo credit: Nancy Crampton

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