In her rich and nuanced debut novel, Haven Kimmel brings to life two irresistible people at odds with their small-town lives and with each other.Langston Braverman does not come home to Haddington, Indiana, because she is searching for a simpler life. Having just walked out of her Ph.D. oral exams and abandoned the remains of a disastrous affair, she has retreated to her parents' attic to nurse a bruised heart and maybe even write a great American novel. It does not escape her attention that the town is abuzz with the death of her childhood friend, Alice, but not even this morsel of intrigue can rouse Langston from her self-imposed existential dilemma.A few houses down Plum Street, Amos Townsend is obsessed with Alice's murder and his inability to stop it from happening. A preacher struggling with his role as a spiritual leader after suffering a profound crisis of faith, he finds comfort in helping Alice's two small girls, who have renamed themselves Immaculata and Epiphany
A romance evolves in the wake of a domestic shooting in Kimmel's intelligent and compassionate debut novel, which brings two friends of one of the victims together in a small Indiana town. Amos Townsend is the male protagonist, a 40-ish preacher who counseled the late Alice Baker-Maloney as her frayed marriage degenerated into a fatal confrontation with her controlling husband, Jack. Amos remains tormented by his attraction to Alice and his inability to have prevented the tragedy. Meanwhile, bookish Langston Braverman has returned home after dropping out of her Ph.D. program following an affair with an academic colleague and subsequent nervous breakdown. The two clash after Langston's mother, AnnaLee, orders her to abandon her literary projects to care for Alice's two orphaned daughters; Amos accuses Langston of being unfit for the job when both girls continue to exhibit a bizarre variety of compulsive, religiously oriented behaviors. The girls' crisis continues to escalate, leading to a series of melodramatic scenes in which Amos and Langston are forced to confront their own demons. There are some winning moments as the protagonists move toward a romance, although things are hindered somewhat by the sluggish pace in the early going, as Kimmel (A Girl Named Zippy) meanders through scenes detailing smalltown Midwestern life and as she delves into the pasts of the two leads. Still, she proves a wise, compassionate and often very witty storyteller whose affection for her characters is contagious. Agent, Stella Connell. Author tour. (June 18) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2001
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Excerpt from The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
Because he believed in leading a disciplined life, Amos Townsend tried to go to bed at the same time every night, eleven o'clock, or close to it. Some nights he fell asleep right away, and even as his grip on consciousness slipped he felt a flood of gratitude for the loss. Most nights he lay awake an hour or more, enduring the contours of his pillow and the fact of his bones pressing into the mattress. Sleeplessness bred in him the most desperate irritation; he realized he hated flannel sheets (although he loved them earlier in the day, or at least the thought of them), and that the length of his legs made him furious (length and knobbiness inherited from his father), legs that consistently tangled in the ridiculous flannel sheets and kept him from sleeping. What disturbed him most was simply the hour of midnight, and the dark bedroom, and the waves of fatigue and pity that stole over and seemed to steal something from him. Amos believed that both discipline and grace were muscles he had to keep exercised, oxygenated, in order that they might be called upon in an emergency, and nights for him were often an emergency, and sometimes he muttered low and exasperated, "Dear Lord, please just let me fall asleep already," and then waited for grace to descend on him with a shadowy nod.
A single thing gnawed at him at night, an idea he had no name for, although if anyone asked him he could have written a book, as they say, on the subject. Perhaps he was even called to write it, but he was vexed by the how and the why. Amos knew as well as anyone what went into writing a book, having written a master's thesis, and he considered the process to be akin to having one's nerves stripped with a curry comb. A ghastly experience, not to be endured. He imagined the tower of reference books clotting his study, and the notecards he would use to try to keep his thoughts straight, and the inevitable architectural work that would need to be employed, and the hours spent in the overstuffed chair facing Plum Street, lost in thought and picking at the threads in the upholstery; and most of all, the way writing a book makes a person feel that he'd rather be anywhere than inside his own skin. He'd rather be on Plum Street, that's for sure, kicking along in the tangle of fall leaves or stopping to pet one of the litter of mountain cur pups born next door (beautiful little dogs that would be feral in the blink of an eye--he knew he should pet them quickly, before he lost his chance). But if he were on Plum Street his mind would be drawn to his own study window, and he would think with longing of the work he could be doing and how work is the only thing that saves the soul, the only thing that makes a man a man, as he remembered Emerson saying, or something like it. Writing a book brings a single, irreducible truth right out to the edges of a person: there is no place to be, there is no place in this world, it is impossible to be happy.