The Used World by Haven Kimmel

usedworldMy love affair with Haven Kimmel continues.

Billed 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 doesn’t share many of the same characters. In fact, I couldn’t connect any characters from Something Rising, although several are tangential to Solace. I looked again, and Amazon (et al) calls this a “trilogy of place,” so, okay. I’ll start there. The place is Hopwood County, Indiana, and the little town of Jonah. Presumably it is based in part on Kimmel’s own hometown in that state. There are drugs and dysfunction and small-town bigotry and meanness, but it’s not all bad; there are also big-hearted people and open minds, and Pastor Amos Townsend (you’ve seen his name before in an earlier book review) is a bright star. I like that he is simultaneously transcendent, intelligent, & thoughtful, and deeply fallible & human. He has company, in this book, in the three women of a secondhand shop called Hazel Hunnicutt’s Used World Emporium.

Hazel is the proprietor, in her 60’s, decidedly eccentric and devoted to her aged mother and her cats. She turns out (naturally) to have an interesting history which I won’t get into here. Claudia Modjeski is a loner and accustomed to being stared at: she is 6’5″ and well-built, and occasionally gets called sir. And then there’s Rebekah Shook, a fragile woman who only recently escaped her father’s hellfire-and-brimstone cult of condemnation and is still being made to pay for it. Into their lives come a baby boy quite literally forgotten at a nearby meth camp, and an unwanted pregnancy, and everyone’s world shifts a little.

As I’ve said about all the Kimmel books I’ve read recently, this is lovely. She has a fine, crystallized perspective on middle America. The language continues to be stunning: Kimmel is a word wizard. The erudition present in her other books I’ve read, where one or more characters are so cerebral and caught up in the theoretical as to be nearly loony, is not so much present here; but there is decidedly more religious nuttiness. There are really good people, but also less good things (case in point: forgotten baby at meth camp). As a recurring theme, romance and beauty will blossom in the most unlikely places, and I confess I’m a sucker for that. Watch closely for the little details. I had to go back and reread a bit to track a character who starts off as insignificant and suddenly looms. Kimmel is a tricky one. Subtlety. Surprises.

I may have to stop reviewing her books. I feel inadequate.


Rating: yet another 9 for Kimmel, what can I say? 9 pit bulls. (There will always be dogs in her books. I like that I can rely on that.)

Next up: Kimmel’s best-known, award-winning memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, about which I am (understandably, I think) excited, but also nervous because I don’t always agree with the general consensus about which book is an author’s best. I am also excited, perhaps even more so, about her later memoir of her mother, entitled She Got Up Off the Couch – not least because I hope to write my mother’s memoir one day, too.

2 Responses

  1. […] Rooms was Truman Capote’s first novel, and I have picked it up because it was referenced in The Used World. Such is the power of Haven […]

  2. […] The Used World, Haven Kimmel (fiction) […]

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