The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

solaceofleavingLangston Braverman has recently returned to her hometown of Haddington, Indiana. Very close to receiving her PhD she walked out of her oral exams. She is a strange, exceptionally erudite but socially fragile and problematic young woman. She has a dog named Germane: “named not after Germaine Greer, but as in: Germane to this conversation.” (I love that.)

Amos Townsend is Haddington’s pastor, of only a year or two now. He is tormented by the death of a local named Alice; he feels that he should have been able to stop her death, and he is struggling with his faith, which is actually nothing new.

Alice’s two children are left in limbo; their crazy aunt Gail has turned out to be unfit, and their grandmother Beulah is clearly too near death herself to wrangle with two traumatized little girls. Upon Alice’s death, they dispose of their original names, Madeline and Eloise, and state that they are now called Immaculata and Epiphany. They wear costumes from a Renaissance drama from school, that their mother made, all the time. Complete with hats: the tall cone-shaped kind with ribbons streaming off the tops.

Langston’s mother AnnaLee picks up some of the slack, and then insists that Langston step up: she is not in school, not working, and these children need her. Of course, Amos plays a role as well, so that this village will truly raise a child.

Langston and Amos are the stars of this story (along with the striking Immaculata and Epiphany, of course). When they meet, they repel one another like magnets. Despite sharing tastes and interests in reading, philosophy, theology, and (I can’t stress this enough) their particular brands of weird, they repel. And, as is clearly a theme in Kimmel’s work, the cerebral content, the philosophies and theologies that shape this part of the story are complex and thoroughly explored. I think I said this in my last Kimmel review, but: her many references partly pique me to go off and study, and partly exhaust me, making me so glad I don’t have to read Whitehead and Tillich and Frithjof Schuon. It makes me sit back and …wonder… that all these strange, complex, learned thoughts that Langston has are thoughts that Kimmel had to have first, had to conceive to put them in her heroine’s mouth; think of that.

Immaculata and Epiphany see Mary (the Mother of God) in the dogwood tree in their grandmother Beulah’s backyard. Naturally, because that is the kind of world this is. It is very strange and is a kind of beautiful, and again I observe that Kimmel’s gift is to create a midwestern small-town world that is both hopelessly humdrum and depressing and everyday, and also strange and exalted and worthy of examination.

What happens to our exquisitely odd cast of characters should definitely remain a surprise to you, reader. It’s pretty great, though.

I love this author SO MUCH that I am struggling to write reviews; but I will keep reading her. Next up is The Used World, and I am, of course, working to get my hands on her best-known bestselling memoir, A Girl Named Zippy.

I’ll close, as I tend to with Kimmel, with a few lines from the book that particularly caught my eye. Where these have, in the past, been lovely examples of her use of language, these are more concepts that I really liked. There is a book theme here. And the language is great – observe the curry comb, is that an image or what – but it’s the concepts that I like most here:

Amos knew as well as anyone what went into writing a book, having written a master’s thesis, and he considered the process to be akin to having one’s nerves stripped with a curry comb.

Maybe he knows what goes into writing a book as well as anyone… who hasn’t written a book?

The most intractable aspect of his bachelorhood was that Amos was uncomfortable eating without reading; he felt as if he were wasting both time and food.

Me too, Amos. I’m right there with you.

Amos tapped his fingers on his bony knees. “Why do you have a book and I don’t?”

“Because I’m a woman, Amos.”

“Yes, but why do you have a book and I never do in a situation like this?”

AnnaLee put the book down. “I carry a bag. I also have safety pins and emergency money, and a package of those little wet towelettes. We live in Indiana. I could get stopped by a train, I could get bored. I always carry a book.” She went back to reading.

How perfect is that. “We live in Indiana, Amos!” Perhaps it goes without saying that I, too, try to keep a book with me at all times? I fail on safety pins and wet towelettes, though.

I’m sure I’ve failed to do this book justice. But it’s divine.

Rating: 9 ribbons on a hat.

2 Responses

  1. […] as the third in a “loose” trilogy begun with The Solace of Leaving Early and continued with Something Rising (Light and Swift), The Used World inhabits the same space but […]

  2. […] The Solace of Leaving Early, Haven Kimmel (fiction) […]

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