As a big fan of both of Haven Kimmel's memoirs (A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off The Couch), it's kind of strange to me that I haven't paid more attention to her fiction. I read and enjoyed Something Rising (Light and Swift), but nothing since. The titles of several of her other novels have been languishing in my to-read notebooks (yes, plural) for years.
On my last trip to the library, I went in search of The Used World, which appears no fewer than four times in those pages, indicating that a) I found a positive review of it in at least four locations on separate occasions and b) I am probably senile or I would've remembered at least one or two of the times I had written it down previously before writing it down again. While reaching for The Used World, I saw that the Haven Kimmel title right beside it had a "Staff Pick" sticker on the binding. After reading the staff review on the inside cover, I tucked Iodine under my arm along with, finally, The Used World.
I do not say lightly that Iodine is unlike any book I've ever read before. The sometime narrator and central character is Trace Pennington, a brilliant and deeply disturbed college senior living under a false identity and hiding a troubled past. As that past is slowly revealed to us, biographical facts are liberally mixed with fantasy and hallucinations; dreams are recalled as memory. It becomes clear that we are inside the mind of a young woman who has lost (or never had) the ability to distinguish reality from her perception of it.
In Jen's "Staff Pick" review, she calls the book "complex and disturbing" and it is assuredly that. Complex because Trace is brilliant--an English/classics double major with a minor in psychology who has "accidentally" taken enough credits for minors in humanities, philosophy and women's studies. Her academic life focuses on the last two classes she needs to complete her hyphenated degree(s): Archetypal Analysis of Literature and Special Topics in Archetypal Psychology. Kimmel touches on these topics--with special focus on Jung and Freud and the work of Dr. James Hillman, whom Kimmel acknowledges in a note at the end of the book. And complex, too, because Trace's focus and thoughts shift so often and mostly without warning, that it may take a sentence or two to notice the shift. It is definitely a book to read with little or no outside distractions.
The book is disturbing not just for what we learn about Trace, but for what it might make us realize about ourselves. How often do you start to reminisce with someone about a shared event and find out that his or her memory differs, often drastically, from your own?
Years ago, I helped a friend work on a paper on the subject of memory for her college psychology class. One of the things that stuck with me from the research for that paper was that the vividness of a memory is in no way related to its accuracy.
Trace's mind has remade whole swaths of her life, in order to protect her from experiencing the full damage of her past, in order to transform her actual history into a history she can live with. To a lesser degree, I think all of our minds are busily doing the same for us even at this very moment.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Intriguing.
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