February Read of the Month: “Take a Left at Tomorrow,” by Renee Anduze

Renee Anduze

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

The wild rebellion against authority that characterized the Sixties burns through the pages of Renee Anduze’s coming-of-age novel, Take a Left at Tomorrow (Twisted Road 2021). Those who lived through the decade’s changes will appreciate how expertly Anduze paints the mood of the time. Those born later will experience the upheavals vicariously and perhaps understand those who lived through those times better.

This is not another novel about the Vietnam War set in jungles and rice paddies. It is a novel about how that war devastated a whole generation, how it changed their politics and their interpretation of patriotism.

And this is a love story, one that offers just enough erotic detail to leave you breathless, with the rest igniting your imagination.

Like many nineteen-year-olds, Joey feels trapped in her small town. After her mother dies when Joey is only fifteen, she must take care of her younger brothers. She cooks and cleans and keeps the family together, as her father shirks many of his responsibilities. Her boyfriend Tommy doesn’t understand her desire to escape. He asks, “What’s happening somewhere else that isn’t happening right here, Joey?” But Joey knows the only way to “overcome ignorance” is to seek knowledge, and the only way “to get out of this nowhere house” is to walk out the door. She yearns to see the world.

That Tommy is not the right guy for Joey becomes clear in other ways. He doesn’t listen to her. He doesn’t share his thoughts or feelings. And he doesn’t understand Joey’s insistence that her dead mother is still watching over her, perhaps as “an owl or a sparrow or even a hummingbird.”

Rebellion isn’t the only thing burning in this story. Young love and lust sizzle when Joey meets Kit. Anduze has a true talent for capturing the physical chemistry between the sexes. That talent is on display in passages like this one describing Joey’s reactions to Kit: “Looking at the half-smile that lit the air I was breathing with an invisible match.”

Immediately, Kit understands Joey in ways Tommy never did, but plenty of obstacles stand between Joey and Kit or there wouldn’t be a story. First and foremost is the Vietnam War, when Kit is forced to spend a year fighting overseas.

By getting involved in theater productions and acting, Joey finds a way to leave her small town without really leaving. As an actor, she “Got to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” She decides to attend college and study theater. She is lucky enough to secure a scholarship.

When Kit returns from Nam, he and Joey connect again, despite her best friend Dee Dee’s disapproval. Kit has a reputation as being wild, and Dee Dee feels that Joey is betraying their friendship by rejecting her judgment. Dee Dee is particularly appalled when Joey decides to move in with Kit. She declares Joey’s reputation will be ruined forever, an assessment Joey rejects:

“Don’t be dramatic, Dee Dee. This is 1968.”

“The year doesn’t matter, kiddo. Men don’t buy the cow when the milk is free.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not a cow and I don’t plan on belonging to anyone.”

The conflict between boyfriend and best friend is one most readers will identify with—as well as the cow analogy, so common back in those times. Also troubling is Joey’s agreement to delay accepting her scholarship for one year, after which Kit promises to accompany her to California. Not hard to imagine something going awry with that promise.

As Joey and Kit cohabitate, conflicts and problems arise. First, there are his terrible nightmares. With keen insight, Joey notes that “Recurring dreams were always the scary ones, why the most vivid memories were always the bad ones.” Another serious problem the couple faces is the slow deterioration of Kit’s foot, which was injured in Vietnam. And worse still, as far as their relationship is concerned, Kit begins to invite an assortment of troubled people to share their rustic cabin. Joey craves time alone with Kit; he craves atonement for his actions in the war, for the killing of innocent people. Helping others fills a deep need in Kit. So does joining in protests where people against the war stand up to members of the government. Joey struggles to support his passion, especially when he is deceptive about where he is taking her and whether violence is likely to occur. She confronts him with disdain: “Did you believe a confrontation with authority would bring you peace?” Nothing, she thinks, will ease his conscience, no matter how much he sacrifices for the anti-war effort.

I mourned for Joey as she sacrificed her own goals and dreams for Kit. Yet it wasn’t hard to understand why she did it. Kit’s sacrifices have been many, both overseas and since his return. Not only his foot, but also his innocence has been crushed, destroyed. And she loves him. Deeply. There is that.

The novel’s greatest strength is transporting readers to some of the most traumatic and signature events of the Sixties, from the war protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to the Kent State campus in Ohio where the National Guard murdered protesters to the three-day drug-and-music-filled party that was Woodstock. Throughout the novel, the songs of the Sixties surge in the background and tie events together. Andouze piles on one precise detail after another, transporting us to the era. She makes us feel the sting of tear gas, the terror and confusion of stampeding protesters, the relentless rain pelting concert attendees at Woodstock, the sizzling guitar of Jimmy Hendrix. The author captures the anger of the era like no other book I’ve ever read. Anger that permeated college campuses populated by draft-age men and the young women who cried when they were drafted. Anger that spilled over into the streets in violent confrontations. Anger that sparked from the electric guitars.

Take a Left at Tomorrow is one fine read with tremendous heart.

Renée Anduze holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and a BA in English from Rollins College. She has worked as a professional writer and editor for nearly twenty years, five of them at Rollins College. Her work has appeared in national magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and online. She has won several writing awards, including three Royal Palm Literary Awards. Though Renée currently lives in Central Florida, she grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the primary setting for this novel.

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  1. Louanne Spitzner says

    I loved the book by Renee Anduze, Take a Left at Tomorrow. I couldn’t put the book down.
    She is such a great novelist! I felt like I was back in the 60’s.
    A love story during a difficult time in the world.

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