- St. Martinâ€™s, may, 2008, $24.95
This tendency having cost her her employment (not for the first time), Ellen sets out from Manhattan to Montreal to visit her sister, manicky with spring fever and sudden liberty. On a whim, she decides to get off the main highway in New York’s northernmost reaches, sees a ramshackle house, and decides to put it on her Optima card—just like that.
Anybody Any Minute opens as Ellen is explaining this purchase to her husband, who’s less than enthralled. She, however, backs up her whims with stubbornness. It’s a great house. He’ll love it.
On first meeting Ellen, the reader could be forgiven for worrying about her a bit. Not only is she acting like a bipolar sufferer on a mood swing, but she has no concept of what moving to the north country will actually be about. Everything from the black fly population to the Wonder Bread for sale at the local store comes as a shock. Less adventurous souls might turn and run, but not Ellen—and as she takes on the plumbing, the roof, and the grime and refuses to be daunted, we begin to worry less and enjoy her company.
More timid souls might find leaving Manhattan for the relatively tame environs of Rhinebeck or Stone Ridge an adjustment; lesser hearts might scoff at the locals as bumpkins. But as Ellen finds friends, we see another aspect of her magic: the ability to accept people right where they are and marvel at them. She befriends two men, both quirky old country boys, and immerses herself in their dilemmas even as she struggles with her own, bridging a major cultural divide:
“Not everyone wants to talk about their problems, you know,” Rodney said. “Some things are personal.”
“You might not believe this,” Ellen said quickly, “but in New York, personal problems are public. Everybody either has a shrink or goes to an anonymous group so they can tell their most private stories over and over again, even if they have to pay someone to listen.”
The personal problems and longstanding feud plaguing Rodney and Ellen’s other new buddy, Rayfield, don’t have a chance against the onslaught of Ellen’s friendship. Not that her own life lacks for challenge or drama; as if making the crumbling house liveable and starting an organic garden were not enough, she must face a frightening distance that has developed in her live-and-let-live marriage, and step up to care for her toddling nephew when her sister rushes to the boy’s father’s deathbed in Peru. She even finds herself taking in a mongrel dog that’s a pawn in a custody battle.
Former Kerhonkson resident Mars now lives in New Mexico. In her lauded memoir, A Month of Sundays (GreyCore Press, 2005), she did unflinching research into death, spirituality, and sisterhood, themes that weave into this novel without dragging down its hilarity in the least. Anybody Any Minute is deep without being onerous, a beautifully told tale of how lives that may appear on the surface to be falling apart are actually falling into place.