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Cassie Claiborne's world is riddled with problems beyond her control: her hard- living, pool-shooting father has another...
Cassie Claiborne's world is riddled with problems beyond her control: her hard- living, pool-shooting father has another wife; her stoic, long-suffering mother is incapable of moving herself mentally away from the kitchen window; her sister Belle is a tempest of fragility and brilliance; her closest friends, Puck and Emmy, are adolescent harbingers of their own doomed futures. Frustrated by her inability to care deeply enough for so many troubled souls, Cassie finds in the local pool hall an oasis of green felt where she can master objects and restrain her emotions.
As Cassie grows from a quietly complex girl into a headstrong young woman, she takes on the thankless role of family provider by working odd jobs and hustling pool. All the while, she keeps her eye on the ultimate prize: wringing suitable justice out of past wrongs and freeing herself from the inertia that is her life.
In this ultimately uplifting story, Haven Kimmel reaches deep into the hamstrung souls of her fictional corner of Indiana. Remarkable for its tough tenderness, Something Rising (Light and Swift) is an astonishing work of pure heartbreak.
The man had left a mess on the table. Cassie paced, dropped her stick up and down on the toe of her boot. On the break he had sunk the 6 and the 2 and had cleared the 1 and 3 quickly. But he left the 4 stranded close to the rail and the cue ball downtable, taking a safety. Cassie had to do many things at once - get to the 4; sink the 4; position the cue ball to take the recalcitrant 5; get back down for the 7; release the 8 from where it was stranded; and sink the 9 - but the whole process felt like one thing, the way walking doesn't feel like a thousand articulated events. Just one event.
Some nights she saw the table as a plane, all four sides extending infinitely, and at those times she couldn't lose. But on other nights, and againstopponents like her current one (the Lounge Singer, she'd dubbed him), she fell to earth and used what she could find there. The table was actual and massive, and its borders were discrete. She imagined two protractors joined at the horizontal line, forming a perfect circle, and everything outside that circle was darkness, and all she needed to know was inside. From the ball to the pocket was one side of an angle; from the cue ball to the object ball was the other side. And there, invisible, where the cue and the object met, or would meet: the vertex, her desire. She dreamed sometimes that her whole life was funneled into that point of contact and could be measured in the old ways: acute, right, obtuse, a reflex.
The man across the table had had too much to drink, had bet too much money, and was now showing her his black edge. It was just a look around his eyes, a flush of throat. He thought she'd never take the 4, and he was terrified she would. Cassie stopped behind the cue ball, imagined the table flipped into a mirror image, and considered a bank shot. After she'd done her best with angles, the rest was physics. Distance, velocity, and acceleration. The transfer of momentum. And something else: a sensation she'd never understood that caused her throat to close and her heart to pound. She was addicted to the feeling, even though it arrived like heartbreak, with the same thunder and autonomy. The 4 was too far away, but if she kept her eye on what her opponent couldn't see, the bisections and intersecting lines, the ghosts, she believed she could do it.
She bent so far at the waist that her chin rested on top of the cue, and the lines on the table shifted like a computer design in a war room. The two practice strokes rubbed lightly against the underside of her chin, where she was developing a permanent red line. On the third stroke, a medium shot, the cue ball traveled the length of the table; the Lounge Singer opened his mouth, closed it again. He hadn't expected the backspin, the way the bank happened so fast, sending the 4 right past the 8 and into the corner pocket without a sigh of resistance. The cue ball rolled and stopped six inches from the 5, and then it was over. The 5, the 7, the 8. She sank the 9 lightly, stepped away from the table, and rocked her head from side to side. Her shoulders ached.
Her opponent started to say something, but Uncle Bud filled the doorway like a piece of furniture. "Pay her," he said.
The man reached into his pocket, shaking from the loss, and pulled out a stack of bills held together with a tarnished old clip. His waistband was sweat-stained, and now that she'd beaten him, Cassie had to turn away from seeing him too closely. She took the money, said thanks. He slipped out past Uncle Bud without a word, past the players at the other tables, the regulars who came late and stayed late and seemed to pay attention to no one.
Cassie unscrewed the butt of her cue from the shaft, wiped it down, and put the two parts away as Bud gathered the balls and brushed the felt on the table. When she was ready to go, he walked her to the back door and watched her wheel her bike down the back stairs.
"You going straight home?" he asked.
"He was driving a white Caprice. You see him between here and your house, get off your bike."
"Okay," Cassie said.
"Or else go ahead and knock the crap out of him, I don't care which."
Cassie pulled her cap down over her ears, wheeled out on to the main street of Roseville, where every business was long closed and every resident was long asleep. At the edge of town she leaned into the wind and sped up, past the flat fields of central Indiana, expanses that stretched as far as she could see. She sped down the Price Dairy Road in the complete dark, her headlight casting an arc before her, then turned on to her road, the King's Crossing, which met Price Dairy at a ninety-degree angle. She headed for her house, where her sister, Belle, slept on one line and her mother, Laura, slept on another; and where her father, Jimmy, the vertex, was entirely absent; where there was nothing she could do. No shot to take. No safety.
A light glowed in the trailer at the rear of the property, where her grandfather Poppy lived with his dogs. Poppy left the light on for her, and the dogs didn't bark. Cassie carried her bicycle up the three back stairs and into the laundry room, took off her jacket, and hung her cue case on a hook. The air in the kitchen was gray with Laura's cigarette smoke. Cassie poured herself a glass of orange juice, leaned against the sink. It was two in the morning, and she needed to get up at six-thirty to be at school on time. Her eyes burned, and she let them close, leaning there against the sink in the silent house. She had always hated school, had hated it until recently, when suddenly the girl who had been expelled six times for fighting, who had flunked every subject in one semester last year (including badminton), began collecting report cards that were different from years past. In this, the spring of her tenth-grade year, she had done poorly in everything but math. Her teacher, astonished, had sent a letter to Laura that said one thing: She's a natural.
Excerpted from Something Rising by Haven Kimmel Copyright © 2004 by Haven Kimmel. Excerpted by permission.
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2. In Part I of the novel, Jimmy tells Cassie: "You know you're my favorite, Cassie, although God knows that ain't saying much." Discuss Cassie's relationship with her father, Jimmy. How does it serve as the basis for the way she relates to men in general?
3. When the sisters are younger, Cassie suggests that Edwin's routine presence is because he loves their mother, Laura. But Belle "said he came for other reasons and he was Pure." What do you think Belle means? Why do you suppose Belle and Edwin suddenly married? Could it be that Edwin was courting Belle all along?
4. In Part III of the novel, the narrator comments: "Laura's unhappiness was her religion." How does religion factor into Cassie's life? Has she any faith? Is there anything she considers "holy"?
5. Cassie is known for her belligerence; by the tenth grade she "had been expelled six times for fighting." Nevertheless, when Jimmy files motions to relinquish his paternal responsibility, Cassie refuses Edwin's offer to fight the claim. Cassie asks herself, "What was there to fight?" Why do you think she gives up on Jimmy? How do you explain her indifference? Has she already won the so-called fight?
6. Belle is an interesting character study, especially compared to her sister, Cassie. What drives Belle? Are she and Cassie alike at all? Emotionally abandoned by their parents, in what ways do Belle and Cassie support and comfort each other?
7. The novel's title, Something Rising (Light and Swift), comes from a photocopied book excerpt that Cassie finds in Laura's journal. Explain the significance of the title. How does it relate to the novel and the events within? What is the rattlesnake kite a metaphor for?
8. The theme of death and dying resonates throughout the novel. Discuss some of the ways it appears in the novel. How does Cassie deal with death?
9. Throughout the novel there is no mention of Cassie relating intimately with others. In fact, she seems quite closed off to affection somewhat like her mother, Laura, who "didn't like to touch or be touched." Yet, at the age of thirty, Cassie meets Thomas in New Orleans and falls in love almost instantly. Why do you think Cassie is suddenly open to Thomas and to the prospect of love, in general?
10. Uncle Bud, along with Edwin and Poppy, acts as a surrogate father to Cassie. When she shares her decision to go to New Orleans to see her mother's home and Cassie's would-be father, Uncle Bud warns against it, claiming that it's "The Worst Thing That Can Happen ToYou." Why do you think it's so important for Cassie to meet, play and beat Jackson LaFollette? Despite Uncle Bud's warning, how does the trip impact Cassie's life?
11. The fortune teller, Alan, whom Cassie encounters on the streets of New Orleans, reveals a great deal about her life. At one point he tells her: "You pride yourself on being free of?the chains of femininity." Discuss Cassie's lack of femininity. How does it help her negotiate in the world from which Belle and Laura have passively withdrawn?
12. The novel ends with Cassie heading to New Orleans in a new truck packed with her meager possessions, two guns and $300,000 cash. What do you foresee in Cassie's future?