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Book Review: Anybody Any Minute by Julie Mars

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There’s a tremendous intimacy in Julie Mars’ writing. It’s as if she were an old friend, confiding secrets. That isn’t to say that her latest book Anybody Any Minute doesn’t create a fictive dream. The protagonist Ellen Kenny comes across as real, and the story, despite its quirky turns, is also believable.

As the novel opens, 45-year-old Ellen is in trouble. Despite having just lost her job, she purchases a run down house in the country on her credit card for reasons she can’t fathom, and her husband Tommy is furious. After 17 years of marriage, she suddenly realises that she can’t connect with her husband (who is contemplating an affair), her new house is full of problems, her neighbours are bizarre, and her sister experiences a tragedy that leaves Ellen taking care of a 2-year-old who doesn’t speak English. Add in the unexpected custody of a depressed dog, and Ellen finds herself way over her head. It’s a situation that only the finest “open-your-heart” herbal tea, acupuncture treatments, extensive research, an artistic chainsaw, and lots of spontaneous love can sort out.

To call this book charming would be an understatement. As a character, Ellen might be irritating and self-centred in a lesser author’s hands, but instead, Julie Mars creates a woman whose mid-life soul searching comes across as believable and important. Ellen’s excessive interest in the lives of the strangers she meets has a bit of naivety to it. It’s the antithesis of the way people in her native New York City approach one another, but her behaviour is also moving. Ellen lets people in and then gives back without reservation, a quality which she notes, is generally lacking in our modern world.

Ellen’s search drives the narrative on, and her philosophical musings and refusal to take things at face value turn what looks like a no-win situation with no-hope characters into something entirely different. There are moments when Ellen’s musings go quite deep, enriching the novel beyond its light-hearted fast moving plot:

She pulled one of Viola’s quilts up over her shoulders and stretched out full length on the porch swing. All over the modern industrialized world, connections were snapping like dried twigs. Extended families, community involvement, shared ceremonies—all out the thermopane window. The individualism of the West had accelerated independence at great cost, and there was no room left for a family disaster. When one struck, like a raging storm at sea, each individual was set adrift alone, clinging to his or her own piece of wreckage. 

Other characters, like Rayfield of Porkerville, whose wife “Wide Load” has left him and who is selling his entire beer can collection along with his motorcycle leathers, or the chainsaw-wielding Rodney, are as well crafted as they are funny. There are moments, such as Rayfield’s attempts at re-enacting Dustin Hoffman’s role in The Graduate, or Ellen’s impulsive buying which range from the house itself to fork bracelets and silk kimonos, where the reader is laughing out loud.

But the narrative never descends into farce, buoyed as it is by the relationship between Ellen and her nephew Olivier, between Ellen and her sister, and between Ellen and the people she meets in this journey which parallels her dreams. The previous owner, Viola, is as intriguing as she is absent, and Mars handles her lightly, but still makes her a powerful muse for Ellen, leading the book to its rich conclusion. For anyone who was young in the 1960s or for women over forty, Anybody Any Minute will have particular interest. The historical context is melded neatly with the psychological. While there’s definitely a feminine edge to this book, Anybody Any Minute is the kind of book you can read quickly in the airport, or on the beach, for pure entertainment, or more deeply, for the themes it illuminates. Julie Mars’ latest novel tows a wonderful line between humour, introspection, and powerful characterisation.

To listen to The Compulsive Reader Talk's Interview with Julie Mars, visit: Blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.