"Something Rising (Light and Swift)"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer SEP 16, 2004)
When we first meet Cassie Claiborne, we meet a girl of infinite patience; a girl who picks her shots with a steady hand, using her uncanny ability as a pool player to make the money that helps her and her wounded family survive. This impression is supported as we go back a little in time to her early teens. We find a girl who, in between picking fights and carefully taking care of the abandoned hack she and the local kids play in, waits for her father to return home. Jimmy’s a charmer...if you can call a compulsive gambler and liar who lives with another woman charming, but then if his wife, Laura, distant, extremely intelligent but a bit dreamy, can give up her life to follow him, then maybe you have to admit the man has something to him. The other members of Cassie's family are equally disappointed, even broken hearted by Jimmy's selfish ways.
The whole book is, in its own way, a game of pool, and Cassie is her own toughest opponent. She is (mostly) always calm and in control in front of us, and especially when she’s holding a pool cue, but we get an idea that along the edges there is a great wildness. We know she fights people in school, and later that she has quick, unreasoning spurts of anger, some of which have pretty harsh consequences. The game is this: she keeps moving forward, lining up the next shot, and she ignores everything else. While her mother, Laura, wallows in her regrets, Cassie refuses to acknowledge that they are there. While ignoring everything but what’s on the table is fine for a game of pool, it’s a very bad way to play at life, because something in the peripheral is always waiting to jump out at you. And, of course, we all know that the more you try to repress something, the more likely you are to explode.
Its also a picture of a unique group of people, all of them well characterized and unforgettable. We watch them grow up with her....Puck, who is joyful in his lack of need for employment, and who draws a graphic novel based on the life of his best friend. Emmy, who wants to be a free spirit but who allows herself to be trapped into conformity, yet seems determined to resist seeing it. She makes a strange contrast to Laura...the girl who didn’t do what was planned for her, and, the girl who did. We get a picture of small town life, and how what one person does can warp a family, but not quite destroy it.Eventually Cassie gets to a point where she does have to face the things she’s been ignoring, and what happens is both bitter sweet and utterly freeing. Her trip to New Orleans, the things and people she sees and how they are described make it seem a place of magic, underlying the lyrical ways Kimmel has of writing, while the resolution to this arc of Cassie’s life leaves us oddly hopeful.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Haven Kimmel at SimonSays.com(back to top)
"The Solace of Leaving Early"
(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran SEP 30, 2002)
Even though it is billed as a story "told with remarkable wit and sweeping empathy," I discovered early on that perhaps I am not the intended audience for Haven Kimmel's debut novel, The Solace of Leaving Early. At the novel's onset, Pastor Amos Townsend is lying awake at night, musing on the possibilities of writing a self-improvement book. "Why Amos Townsend's ideas, when there are such game and handsome exegetes for the world's mysteries as Richard Feynman and Brian Greene and that bald man with the big glasses who can connect everything in the world into a single theory?" Immediately, I run a google search on Richard Feynman and Brian Greene. Feynman, it seems, was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for "fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles." Greene's Columbia University bio reveals he researches "superstring theory, a theory that purports to give us our first sensible theory of quantum gravity as well as a unified theory of all forces and all matter." I don't know about you, but I seldom find myself awake at night contemplating superstring theory and fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics. Those who do are probably just the right audience for this book.
Before you run screaming into the night, let me assure you that Kimmel does, eventually, weave a nice story about Pastor Townsend and kindred spirit Langston Bravernman. Langston has returned home to Haddington, Indiana after walking away from her Ph.D. program at Indiana University. To be precise, she refused to take her oral exams and now has returned to her mother's house without ambition or financial support, preferring to work at writing an "urban subterranean novel," working title "Tunnel." Kimmel, I gather, is a critically acclaimed memoirist. This I consider quite a feat, writing and selling your life story before you are even well known. She seems to have carried the memoirist's bag of tricks into novel writing, however since she, like Amos, studied at seminary, and also, like Langston, grew up in small town Indiana, and studied English and creative writing. I hope that the similarity ends here because in Langston she has created one of the most self-absorbed and annoying characters in recent memory. Langston, who seems perpetually mired in surly adolescence, cannot bear her reduced circumstances, finding every aspect of small town life excruciatingly insipid. Her mother asks her to accompany her to a wedding of pregnant teenager. Langston refuses. "There would be bowls of salted nuts at the wedding reception, nuts in little glass bowls. Langston couldn't even bear to think of them. And those buttery homemade mints that were an ungodly combination of flavors, and probably began as pure lard. Everyone there would be so pathetic and lumpy, and some of the dresses would be homemade . . .she threw herself into the pillow and began sobbing." Yeah, those nuts are pretty hard to take.
While reading, I couldn't decide if the author was satirizing Langston or celebrating her. According to her website, Kimmel says she loved Langston, which only clouds the picture further for me. Langston, like, I suspect the author, often uses words like "shan't," is frequently horrified by most everything, and refuses to answer the phone for fear she must communicate with someone she considers a waste of time. Although she is, as you might have guessed, initially horrified by them, Langston agrees to help raise two little girls, whose mother, a childhood friend of Langston's has died. Langston's relationship with little Immaculata and Epiphany, as they prefer to be called, provide most of the book's tender moments. Langston proves to be a more than adequate nanny or governess, as she calls herself, protecting the grieving children, and simultaneously giving them wings. All the while, Langston must reconcile herself with her own, unusual childhood, complete with a supernaturally evil grandmother and a missing older brother. She shares child-rearing duties with Amos and the two begin a David and Maddy-esque relationship around the children, although with an unusual version of witty banter. On the general subject of marriage, Langston says,
"What puzzles you is how an institution can be both sacred and profane at the same time? Something like that? Or whether there is truly a transcendent element in an entirely mundane economy?
'Yes! That is sort of what I was thinking. But also weddings, I'm very disturbed by the nature of a wedding, by the way we are forced into believing we're witnessing a sacramental event--
--when we're actually witnessing an existential event."
The two eventually reconcile their mutual dislike and come together over the young girls and the study of Alfred North Whitehead. Go run your own google search.
Kimmel is at her best in describing the various idiosyncrasies of small town. Sometimes the story clicks right along, only to bog down a few pages later when the author decides once again to prove how smart she is. I found myself looking anxiously ahead to see when the story picked back up, to see how long, for example, the digression on types of people in a university English department would last. I did enjoy the novel when Kimmel let Immaculata and Epiphany, rather than Langston and Amos, run the show. I probably would have enjoyed the rest of the story if I had a degree in physics . . .and one in theology . . .and, oh yes, English . . .and don't forget philosophy.
- Amazon readers rating: from 38 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Solace of Leaving Early at MostlyFiction.com
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Solace of Leaving Early (June 2002)
- Something Rising (Light and Swift) (January 2004)
- The Used World (September 2007)
- Iodine (August 2008)
- A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana (March 2001)
- She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana (December 2005)
(back to top)
- The official Web Site for Haven Kimmel
- Reading Group Guide for A Girl Named Zippy
- Bold Type Magazine page on A Girl Named Zippy
- USA Today review of The Solace of Leaving Early
- The BookPage review of The Solace of Leaving Early
- ReviewOfBooks.com collection of reviews for The Solace of Leaving Early
- Guardian Unlmited review of Something Rising
(back to top)