Fans of Wisconsin-based author Kris Radish have probably already snapped up copies of her newest novel, Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA, just released two days ago. Radish’s fan base is like that, or so I hear.
Being new to this author’s work, I didn’t know what to expect when I first cracked Paradise. All I had to go by was Radish’s considerable skill at naming books. (Previous novels include The Elegant Gathering of White Snows , Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn and The Sunday List of Dreams.)
Publishers Weekly describes Paradise as “Radish’s latest warm-fuzzy,” and, indeed, there are moments of warmth. But the story line itself tends toward prickly. Middle-aged couple Lucky and Addy are at that point in their marriage where their son is grown and out of the house, their lives are more or less a grind and they seem to have little in common. In fact, the opening chapter has Addy daydreaming about running her car into the garage which Lucky has jam-packed with projects he’s never quite gotten to. A honey-do list gone awry. “A garage stuffed with crap that my husband will use with his goofyass friends, not to fix, but to spread across each other’s lawns like teenagers,” Addy muses.
That her fantasy (and near reality) is to ram what she calls “The Kingdom of Krap” with her car is not such a good sign. And things go downhill from there. Lucky, a lovable if clueless goof-ball like his name suggests, manages to win the couple a trip to Costa Rica where Addy hopes they’ll rekindle their romance. However, on the eve of their departure, Lucky wrenches his back. Soon, instead of basking on a beach, Addy is not only back to the drudgery of her own life, but she’s also Lucky’s nursemaid as he’s laid up on pain medication, recovering from surgery.
In essence, Paradise is a catalog of final straws.
To tell how Addy handles the cards she’s been dealt would be to give away too much of the plot. However, aside from tackling middle-aged angst (likely all-too relatable to many readers), Radish also delves into the psyches of her characters with a couple unique literary tools. Namely, Lucky’s brief but telling soliloquies, and Addy’s mental lists.
Lucky’s speeches fall under the chapter titles like, “What I should have said to Addy …” and “What I thought Addy was thinking …” and read something like this: “He is an insincere slob, male pig, selfish ass, is what she was thinking and she would be correct. Sort of.” It’s a clever trick that allows the husband not-so-in-touch-with-his-feelings to have his say, and Radish uses it well. The brevity of Lucky’s monologues, rendered in biting short lines, read almost like the haikus of an idiot savant. They are, perhaps, the most brilliant parts of the book. They are also, somewhat strangely, the only parts of the book told in the first person, giving the off-kilter impression that this is actually Lucky’s story, though the bulk of the third-person narration follows Addy.
Addy’s lists, equally poetic in appearance, allow the main character to daydream and explore the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. One reads:
“He would surprise her.
“He would clean out the goddamn garage.
“He would take care of himself.
“He would know without asking.”
The sad truth, of course, is that the lists are really records of what is not to be. And, in a way, much of Paradise is about coming to terms with what is not to be. It’s a story of accepting and moving on. There’s humor, plenty of well-placed sarcasm, colorful and relatable characters and a happy ending. But as the title suggests, paradise is sought but not necessarily found.
Kris Radish comes to Malaprops on Saturday, April 5, for a 7 p.m. reading and book signing. Free. Info: 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter