4:24 pm
Mon December 29, 2003

Wise Beyond Her Years

Although the year has not quite ended, Nicki has already read one of the best novels of 2004.

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Nicki's commentary.]

Several months ago I sat among a delighted audience listening as the writer Haven Kimmel gave a reading?no, a PERFORMANCE- at a writers conference at the Hilton. The first impression of everyone in the room was that Kimmel was too young to have written such wonderful books as ?A Girl Named Zippy? and ?The Solace of Leaving Early?. By the end of her reading, a story delivered with the panache and humor that would have done Clyde Edgerton proud, I decided that not only was Kimmel too young for her accomplishments (that is, younger than me, how dare she) but she was far, far too young to be so wise.

Like most of the really wonderful speeches that I have heard, I remember very little of it word for word, and what I do remember doesn?t sound nearly so profound in the retelling. But the experience caused me to run right home and re-read everything Kimmel had written, and two months later, when the advanced copy of her new book arrived at our store, it was still strong enough to cause me to snatch the book out of the hands of one of the staff, growling fiercely, ?MINE?. Then, it was just a matter of watching the clock until I could go home, fix a fresh cup of coffee, and read.

Haven Kimmel's new novel is "Something Rising (Light and Swift)", and I was fascinated, again, by the depth the author is able to give even the simplest of sentences. The book starts with a girl sitting on the steps of her family trailer, waiting for her ever-absent father to come back home. It ends with that self-same girl now at thirty, at last taking wings and claiming her freedom from the demands of her family that have held her back most of her life. Young Cassie may seem like a lost cause on the surface: she fights. She has been expelled from school more than once. Her mother is a dreamer and barely present to her daughters. Her sister is also a dreamer, an angry and disappointed dreamer who never really can earn enough attention from her mother, and prefers to blame Cassie for it. Cassie?s father is a gambler and everyone but Cassie knows the family is better off without him.

So it is left to Cassie to keep the family from flying apart at the seams. She supports them financially with odd jobs and as a pool hustler. A natural affinity for math and physics (rarely encouraged by her school teachers) makes the green felt expanse of a pool table familiar and comforting territory for her. Her Uncle Bud, who owns the pool hall, guides her through the tricky shots in the game and in life.

One problem that sometimes occurs with stories about precocious children is that they seem wise beyond their years, perhaps not quite believably so. That doesn?t happen in this story, because Cassie is NOT wise, although she becomes wiser by the end of the book. Kimmel deliberately chose to write in the third person, so Cassie is a lot of things, but not a mature young girl. Oddly, although it is written in the third person, it feels very intimate since the entire story is told faithfully from Cassie?s point of view. No omnipotent narrator here, if you want to find out what is happening ?off the page? to the other people in Cassie?s life, you must wait until she turns her eyes and attention in their direction. Sometimes, she never does.

The end result is a graceful story filled with an appreciation for the profundity of simple things. And since Something Rising (Light and Swift) is officially one of the first novels of 2004, it makes me hopeful for the rest of the year?a sign of good books to come.