I was fortunate enough to hear Lee Smith, queen of southern fiction, read from her latest novel at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The moment she introduced us to Herb and Dee Dee, the protagonists of SILVER ALERT, I was smitten. I’m drawn to quirky, broken, spunky characters, and these are two of the best.
Herb is trying to protect and control his shrinking world as he cares for his much younger third wife in their Key West home. (Susan has Alzheimer’s.) Enter Renee, real name Dee Dee, the bubbly young aesthetician with a snaggletooth. She’s been hired to paint Susan’s nails but, Herb discovers, has the ability to defuse Susan’s outbursts with singing and art supplies.
Dee Dee and Herb make an unlikely pair. He’s a grumpy geezer; she’s naïve and sunny. His life is ending at 83; hers is just beginning at 23. He’s wealthy; she’s renting a run-down pink trailer. Their lives are messy and messed-up: he has health issues he doesn’t want to confront, while she’s running from a dark past in rural North Carolina.
Things go from bad to worse. Herb’s kids plan a move to assisted living, and Dee Dee becomes pregnant by a tortured poet. Then Herb finds the car keys he hid from the family, and invites Dee Dee to take a spin with him in the yellow Porsche he’s banned from driving.
What starts as a spontaneous joyride ends up in a plan to visit Disney World, where Dee Dee can fulfil her childhood dream of meeting princesses. Except now they’re in a race to outwit the authorities—and Herb’s family.
Full of heart and humor, their road trip becomes a sweet, but powerful, story about how meeting the right person at the right moment can change your life. The setting on the Florida Keys is a bonus.