I love Haven Kimmel's writings. I wish I could crawl into her brain and eavesdrop on what goes on in there. Her writing is so poignant, hilarious, and perfectly formed that the writer part of me (shrunken and malformed) wishes it could just die and be reincarnated as Haven Kimmel. Wait, can you do that? Does it work that way? I guess my being a complete non-believer might hamper my ability to get reincarnated into my author of choice. To make it even better, now Kimmel blogs. What she writes on her blogs are painfully funny. I got a stitch in my side reading it. I wish I could describe my upbringing so mockingly and yet lovingly. Mock and love all at once. Brilliant.
Kimmel has written a trilogy of sorts, but not in the typical fantasy-esque trilogies. The three books all take place in roughly the same fictional county in Indiana, featuring just a few repeating characters. The Used World is the final installment of that trilogy. She brings back Pastor Amos Townsend, intelligent spiritual leader with a bent for philosophy and troubled souls. I loved Amos in The Solace of Leaving Early and was happy to see his reappearance in The Used World. He's so good at healing people that I was glad that he was there for Claudia, a very tall and lonely woman who is often gawked at because of her height and mistaken for a man. The other characters are Hazel Hunnicut, owner of the antique store, The Used World Emporium, and Rebekah, a young woman ostracized by her Pentacostal family for having abandoned her faith. The three women all work at Hazel's store and find themselves leaning on each other while going through their respective personal traumas.
Hazel is bossy, nosy and pushy. She drags Claudia out to a meth house to retrieve a baby boy she knows is there. The druggie mother died a few days before and Hazel wants Claudia to rescue and raise the baby. Of course, Claudia doesn't know that's Hazel's intent until she is hauled out to the den of drugs and witnesses the neglected baby in a high chair. That part of the book nearly made me lose it. My mommy brain couldn't handle imagining a neglected baby so I half-read that part, hoping it would end out okay. I decided right then if the baby boy didn't end up happy and healthy, I would never read Haven Kimmel again. Harsh, but I'm too close to that to separate fiction from reality. Plus, I don't want to have nightmares. Spoiler: the baby turns out just fine. Hazel's history is told in flashbacks and you learn how much history she has with the people of this small town.
Claudia ends up raising this baby and housing Rebekah, who's ex-boyfriend slash man-child abandons her after getting her pregnant. She, of course, is completely ostracized from her family at this point and openly reviled by her father. Her ex is an idiot who's been pampered by his parents and never held any responsibility and barely makes effort towards his impregnanted ex-girlfriend. Rebekah is also directionless and afraid of new situations and you have to wonder what she was thinking of hooking up with this guy. But she's also full of fun and life and a lot less straight-laced than her religious community would have prefered. She also brings much joy to Claudia's life.
These characters are really rich. They are many layered creatures whose layers are slowly peeled away for the reader and each other during the situations they find themselves in. There is also a tense mystery that is revealed along the way about Hazel's upbringing, the connection she has with the trio of men that sit on couches in the front of her store and also with Rebekah's father. You think you know who Hazel is at the beginning of the book, but you find she is much more.
Kimmel's language is full of spiritual metaphor and has almost a lyrical feel that makes it seem more like poetry than prose. I find myself re-reading passages to try and understand all the meaning to it. Makes me wish I took more English classes in college, dangit! Even so, I never could have written anything nearly as good. I'll just have to be satisfied with reading it, and that is still a pretty sweet deal.
On a side note, if you still haven't read Haven Kimmel's other books, A Girl Named Zippy or the sequel She Got Up Off The Couch, you have homework to do. Get going.