After reading Jenny's review on Haven Kimmel's The Used World, I decided I'd better give her a shot. We'll be reviewing her newest book, Iodine, next month and I wanted to try something else of hers before taking that one on, so I started with The Solace of Leaving Early. This was Kimmel's first novel and while I haven't yet read the acclaimed A Girl Named Zippy, I can see what all the buzz is about. Kimmel's writing is so intellectual that at first it was almost a barrier to getting into the story. I wanted to tell the characters, "Stop thinking so much and start living your lives already!" But it wasn't long before I had a hard time putting it down.
Langston Braverman is a PhD dropout who comes home to her small Indiana town to hide from the world in her parents' attic. She is disgusted by the simple lives, lack of ambition, and undeveloped intellect that characterizes small town life, but at the same time, she struggles with her own insecurities at her failures and her need to prove herself. She is overly critical of everyone, including her loving parents, and especially the new nondenominational preacher, Amos Townsend. Both Amos and Langston are highly intelligent with strong backgrounds in philosophy and the arts, and their ruminations and debates are not for the reader looking for a light popcorn read!
When a childhood friend is killed by her estranged husband, Langston ends up helping to care for her young children who witnessed the traumatic event. This becomes a watershed time in all of the main characters' lives in one form or another; as they try to help the girls heal from the tragedy, they all end up finding healing themselves. Ultimately it's a hopeful book with redemption and happy endings (and I'm all about happy endings). Even if you don't follow all of the theological philosophizing going on (as I didn't), you can't help but feel deeply for the characters.
One of the things that I loved was how Kimmel played with perspective so that you couldn't get completely comfortable with a character and think you had them all figured out. You could really only get a full sense of who they were by seeing them from multiple perspectives, both inside and out, and even then they would do things to surprise you. They were so much more complex than typical fiction characters are allowed to be, that by the time the story was over it was easy to believe that they were still off living their lives somewhere. I loved that aspect, and I also loved her imagery and use of language. By the way, there is an event at the end that has become seared into my mind as one of my favorite images in all of literature. I won't mention it here because it will give too much away, but if you read it and can't figure it out, ask me later! To anyone looking for something thought-provoking with rich characters, I'd definitely recommend it. It's a bit heavy reading, but it's not very long so that compensates. Now I'm excited to try some more Haven Kimmel and see how her other work compares!