Haven Kimmel, the #1 New York Times bestselling author, has long attracted legions of fans for her insightful, humane portraits of outsiders struggling to find their place in the world. In Iodine, her fourth novel, Kimmel once again draws on her exceptional powers of observation and empathy, but this time she makes an exhilarating foray into psychological gothic territory with the electrifying story of a young woman emerging from layers of delusion, fantasy, and lies. With her astounding intelligence, fierce independence, and otherworldly lavender eyes, college senior Trace Pennington makes an indelible impression even as questions about her past and her true identity hover over every page.
From her earliest years, Trace turned away from her abusive mother toward her loving father. Within the twisty logic of abuse, her desperate love for him took on a romantic cast that persists to this day, though she's had no contact with her family since she ran away from home years ago. Alone but for her beloved dog, she's eked out an impoverished but functional existence, living in an abandoned house, putting herself through college, and astonishing her teachers with her genius and erudition. What they don't know is that she leads a double life: thanks to forged documents, at school she is Ianthe Covington, a young woman with no past.
Trace's singular life is upended when she and her literature professor fall in love. She tells him nothing about her life, and as it becomes apparent that he has his own dark secrets, she's forced to face herself and her past. After recovering a horrific, long-suppressed memory, Trace finally copes with the fallout from her brutal, bizarre childhood. Kimmel parcels out Trace's strange, dark story in mesmerizing bits that obscure as much as they reveal, and keep the reader guessing until the end.
With Kimmel's radiant imagination, lyrical prose, and vision of a bleak and fertile Midwest on full display, Iodine is a frightening and marvelous tale of life at the outer extremes of human experience. This unique portrait of the psychological effects of trauma is tantalizing, shocking, and ultimately hopeful.
In her fourth novel, Kimmel (The Used World; A Girl Named Zippy; etc.) offers a beautifully wrought portrait of the brilliant and psychotic Trace Pennington, a runaway now scraping by in an Indiana farmhouse while completing her final year of college. Trace excels in school despite her abject poverty and seems destined to enter the world of academia. However, Trace is haunted by a disturbing personal history, hinted at via dreams, startling recollections and entries in her journal. Her idiosyncrasies and antisocial behavior intensify as her thoughts are increasingly intruded upon by an abusive past and complicated relationships with her family, and when Trace begins a relationship with the worldly Dr. Jacob Matthias, her inner life rapidly disintegrates into the surreal. Her fierce intelligence remains, and she battles her madness and dark memories by moving in and out of her own imaginings. Kimmel skillfully weaves together Trace's lucid moments and her diminishing sanity, providing a full picture of a troubled woman whose identity, past and present are repeatedly called into question. (Aug.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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August 03, 2008
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Excerpt from Iodine by Haven Kimmel
I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed. Once he realized how I felt he never again let me so much as lean against him while we watched television. I was never allowed to rest my head in his lap, or hold his hand. We gave up our late-night dancing in the kitchen to his favorite records; we stopped camping together. He took away my old hunting rifle, and when I rode behind him on his motorcycle I wasn't allowed to wrap my arms around his waist anymore. I had to let them lie on my own thighs, even when taking sharp corners.
Colt Pennington, Colt a childhood nickname that stuck. He was tall and leggy and too thin. There's just the one photograph of him as a boy, I think -- he's standing in a dirt yard in Kentucky with two other boys his age. They are all tanned and barefoot and their hair has been buzzed for the summer, and Colt's head is turned, he's laughing at something one of the other boys has said. Just the one picture, and his head is turned. This is a perfect example of, I don't know, I forget, something about...Doors that close? Doors that were already closed before anyone knew they were open? The three of them, Colt and his two friends, don't look like boys today, in the same way child soldiers from the Civil War are foreign looking, so long lost. That is another example but I don't know what the word is.
His Gramaw Pennington swept the dirt yard but no one else did. She was the last of her kind in this family, out there swishing a broom around in the fine, dry soil, making patterns. The Last Dirt Yard Sweeper, right up until she killed herself with ant poison. I'm unclear on the details. Colt's mother, Juna? Hold a broom? No. There are a couple of pictures of her around here somewhere; Colt kept them. Juna was a clich? of the worst sort which I know because her type shows up all the time in books and movies, mostly movies, I guess. The too pretty mother who married young and never took to the whole thing, and in the movies there is her rouge and her stockings and the swirl of her skirt as she flies out the door while her little boy begs her to stay -- he stands in the door watching as she gets in a stranger's car and drives away. But Juna wouldn't have been cast in that movie; she lacked the necessary...refinement. In Colt's photographs she's dressed like a singer at the Grand Ole Opry, the costume party equivalent. All Colt saw going out the door was (I'm guessing) some ratty old shoe and a cloud of cigarette smoke. But he kept those photographs: one where she's holding him, he's about two years old and Juna is so miserable one side of her mouth has collapsed -- she has had a stroke of misery. In the other she is modeling her Opry dress (white) (some predecessor to vinyl) and her white boots, along with her big hair which is black like Colt's and does appear to be leading her out of the frame and into whatever her future was, no one knows.
If only he'd been facing the camera you (I) could see his eyes, which were round, irises so black there was no end to his pupil. Hair from Juna, eyes from his father, Clyde Sr., of whom there are a number of photographs but no one is interested in them. Not much to him, as I understand it -- he was born to be Juna's victim and live in the same house with his widowed mother and give up on raising his only child after the child's mother left,well what was the man to do but walk slumped over every day to his job at the gas station and...am I right -- did his teeth eventually melt? I think so, I think his teeth melted. So Colt let his hair grow long and bought a wrecked 1950 BMW R512, which he worked on night and day in place of a formal education, and was it even running yet when he met L
his hair grew long and he rode that bike all the way from Kentucky, over the Ohio River and through Tell City, up up the middle of Indiana until he landed
a day laborer and then a carpenter but no one ever messed with him or said a word about that ponytail because he was fast as a whip crack, afraid of nothing, he carried a switchblade and walked with a slight left-leaning swagger from a childhood accident, he seemed cool in all ways but he was wound tight. His body rang like a piano string: I could hear him coming from miles away, an A note in an upper register, struck and struck and struck again. His hands were ruined with work and before he stopped touching me he would sometimes run his hand over my back and leave a dozen snags in the material of my shirts,he maybe didn't have fingerprints anymore.
In the winter he drove a '73 Ford truck, an F-100 with a 360, brown -- that specific shade of brown of 1973. The muddy dogs jumped in the front seat, barn boots weren't even wiped in the grass before driving.The floor was littered with every imaginable kind of trash and tool and cast-off work glove (they assumed the shape of his hands),and the bed was scarred from loads of firewood and scrap metal. He thought only about what was under the hood, he took care where it mattered.