Iodine by Haven Kimmel

iodineThis is my new favorite author. I can’t even tell you… I want to read this book aloud to strangers and shout and cry. I adore her. What a powerful book, and story, and what wordsmithing.

I will tell you very little about the plot of Iodine. Its protagonist is a young woman named Trace, who also goes by Ianthe. The perspective shifts between a third person view of Ianthe and a third person view of Trace and a first person voice, in which the woman who is both women narrates; and she is the quintessential unreliable narrator. She relates memories and then states that they never happened. Her story is revealed slowly and disjointedly, in such stingy scraps that I had to go back and reread, trying to wring out the detail; but the effect is more tantalizing than awkward or confusing the way mixed-up timelines can be.

It is a disturbing story. Trace, along with the other characters we slowly come to know, has a history that upsets us. There is a strong thread of incestuous and otherwise inappropriate sexual longings running through this book (as we saw in those opening lines). Be prepared to be a little uncomfortable at times; but oh, the payoff. And again I give you the beautiful language:

Her red hair was curled and teased and sprayed into an elaborate dome; there were waves and… like the outline of paisleys, it was busy, stiff, bright hair. Not the red she was born with – this was the color of a ripe cantaloupe mixed with blood.

Kimmel has many strengths. Her prose is also poetry. She can characterize a minor player in just a few lines so crisply that I recognize a thoroughly unique and yet familiar man or woman.

Scherring was less a man than a character in a short story, and it was a story Trace rather liked; she liked how the years had disappointed him, and ruined that perfect family, and revealed gin to be poison to the liver.

Her characters are very real, straight from a mundane and yet terrifying Americana, and their lives are both disturbing and everyday.

Iodine is far more a psychological thriller than was Something Rising. There is more Patricia Highsmith here and less Tennessee Williams. There is also definitely something of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, although the protagonists of the two books are different in many ways.

One aspect of Iodine that was also present in Something Rising is a study of literature, in this case of Greek myths, of archetypes, of Freud and Jung: several characters are deeply mired in academia, speaking in a language of myth & archetype, which makes for a beautiful and strange little subculture that they live in. Trace/Ianthe is both very much a part of this world, and also outside of it. I found this erudite framing element to the story very charming and also a little ridiculous, which I think is how Kimmel intended to portray it. It certainly made me interested in reading some of what Trace reads; but not all of it! (I will be looking up Sarah Orne Jewett’s A White Heron, finally, after seeing it referred to in various places before this book.)

I think I’ve made a hash of this review. I don’t want to say much about the plot, and I can’t do Kimmel’s extraordinary talent justice. She has a lovely way with words; I would read her stories about absolutely anything, but find this damaged, disturbed microcosm of the American Midwest especially enthralling. I was riveted throughout, and upon finishing, had to just sit and absorb the effect of this story. My fascination with Kimmel continues and she remains highly recommended.

Rating: 9 black dogs.

5 Responses

  1. black dogs? another teaser for the story line? your rating system intrigues and distracts me!

    but I really wanted to just shamelessly compliment you again; love the developing literary background you draw on in these reviews – from Highsmith, Williams & Campbell, to Greek mythology, Freud & Jung – and revel with you in your enjoyment of fine language; I can enjoy the review while knowing perhaps this one is not for me; that’s a compliment.

    what happened to the author podcasts? Kimmel would be a natural for you.

    • another teaser, indeed. 🙂 the black dog is one of my favorite parts.

      I would like the chance to talk with Kimmel (although I would be intimidated; which is usually true of authors I’m excited to talk to). the podcasts were becoming more work than fun, is the short story; but I did enjoy the last interview, with the World’s Strongest Librarian.

    • and, thank you!

  2. […] to this one, and I’m so glad I did. I’ve seen it referenced before, but it was in Iodine that I saw the allusion that finally got me. And it was pretty easy to find online in full-text […]

  3. […] Iodine, Haven Kimmel (fiction) […]

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