It's fun to have N.M. Kelby's voice banging around in your head for a couple of hours.
In a new collection of Minnesota-centric short stories, "A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts," the author's witty voice can even make growing old feel like an inside joke you'll want to laugh along with.
The first story, "Jubilation, Florida," throws readers right into the arms of Nordan and Sara. Both of these would-be philanderers are "over forty. ... Both love their spouses. Both are drunk. Both naked -- and not thin." Don't be surprised if you can't wait to find out what happens next.
Kelby also loves breathing life into comedic crones in their twilight years. In "Subtitled," another hilarious standout, a half-cracked elderly woman nags her adult daughter about the state of her life.
"How hard is it to find a husband? You go to a party. You lift up your skirt. You run a credit check. Next thing you know, I'm throwing rice at you." The author has an ear finely tuned to this sort of cross-generational badgering, and it crackles like mad in these stories.
Sometimes the stories in "Reckless" border on high camp, as in "The Last Rites," which chronicles the final "performance" of a hometown Hibbing boy who made good in the music industry. Told through the eyes of an old flame from Minnesota who shows up to his Orlando funeral with his favorite hot dish, the author proves she's familiar with the totems -- and clichés -- of the Upper Midwest.
Late-in-life chances at second love are the happiest Kelby hallmark, and "The Faithful" centers around an adult daughter coming to terms with her widowed mother's remarriage and impending departure from Minnesota to Florida. The main character celebrates her final holiday at her parents' old homestead. Almost unbearably poignant at times, there is poetry in the way she drinks champagne, ponders her father's death and watches her new stepfather make a hole in the ice for Christmas ice fishing. The chainsaw "jerks back and hits the ice, chewing. Black diamonds fly into the Minnesota night."
Diamonds aren't the only thing flying in this collection: People are frequently decamping from Minnesota to temperate climes, only to realize they yearn for "home." Without being trite, sentimental or overly philosophical, the author explores our current peripatetic notion of home and what it really means to let go of the past. Another vivid theme at play in these stories is the reality of dispensing with the detritus -- both tangible and psychic -- of elderly parents' lives and asking oneself the question: Where, precisely, does the past reside? Not in objects, surely.
According to our faithful guide, the past resides in our hearts. Yes, even "reckless" hearts.
Andrea Hoag is a Lawrence, Kan., book critic.