Some months ago, I listened to Haven Kimmel read her most recent novel Iodine aloud on CD, on my long work commutes between Seattle and Tacoma. She has a voice to die for—sweet, smart, and sassy—perhaps even better than Jennifer Egan reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, who also does a fabulous job of reading her own work. Somehow, when I listened to Joyce Carol Oates’ Missing Mom, during that same period of long rides and books on CD from the Seattle Library, I managed to conflate these three novels as if they were all read to me by Kimmel. I don’t know why, they were certainly different enough in narrative, perhaps it was the monotony of the drive. Perhaps I had simply fallen in love with Kimmel, and wanted all novels going forward to be read to me in her voice.
Because I was so shaken and impressed by hearing Iodine, I bought a copy and read it, finding it as magical and moving on the page. Kimmel used archetypes, mythology, dream work and depth psychology to create a split-in-two unreliable narrator who cannot escape herself or her family. Oh, Lord, I couldn’t begin to review the book for you, just know that it was one of those books that for me, stopped time and gave me something more precious in its stead.
I have tried to read through Kimmel’s catalogue, starting with her memoir, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, which I must admit I didn’t connect with and didn’t finish. I also picked up but didn’t finish She Got up off the Couch; The Used World; or Something Rising. I will probably try again some day, but I suspect I was spoiled by reading Iodine first. Just this week, I read her first novel, The Solace of Leaving Early, which was amply filling, also magical, and brought into view another broken female character. The narrative arc reminds me of other novels that have a minister as a central character—both Home and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Abide with Me, by Elizabeth Strout—all well worth reading. Kimmel, like both Robinson and Strout, seems to really understand the reality of ministry and living a pastoral life; in addition to receiving her degree in English and creative writing, she also attended seminary. I feel the deep hunger she has to see things from as many different angles as possible, simultaneously, holding nothing as true in a vacuum. I realized that Kimmel, like other novelists I deeply appreciate, is able to look at the story she needs to tell from enough different disciplines and locations to recreate it again and again, different and the same each time.
Does this tell you why I love Haven Kimmel?