From the Publisher
"No one can evoke a universe with a safety pin holding up its hem in the way Haven Kimmel can. In her third novel, The Used World, she tells a story of an eccentric collective of women with the majesty of a parable and the poignancy of a country song. As Faulkner did before her, Kimmel writes about doing what needs doing."
Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean
"The Used World awakens in the used reader the hallelujah impulse, making new all over again the realization that a novel can be honest, stormy, bitterly funny, and not merely worth the time, but necessary."
Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Son of a Witch
How to rediscover faith in this used and broken world, during a vacuous holiday season, in a junk shop tricked out to look like home, among the old eggbeaters and heavy black telephones of the dead? Kimmel manages to suggest that hope is possible here, urging her trio of unhappy pilgrims, along with two unanticipated babies, into a peculiar but convincingly loving family. She accomplishes this not by tidying up all the book's odds and ends, as other writers might, but by leaving them loose. The questions her characters ask…are always more vital than the answers. In an interview with Powells.com in 2004, Kimmel mentioned why she spent 2 1/2 years studying religion in a Quaker seminary in the early 1990s. "I realized that if…I wanted to be a writer at all, I would have to commit myself to asking the largest questions of life I knew how to ask, and it seemed to me that those were questions about time and death and change." Stuffing these questions into an already overcrowded narrative, Kimmel pulls off an unexpectedly affecting novelistic coup, in which sunny exuberance exists side by side with solemnity, faith sits next to doubt, the past cohabits with the present, and the ineffable cozies up to the real. That so messy a book forms such a satisfying whole is a bit of a miracle.
The Washington Post
Kimmel (Something Rising (Light and Swift) ; A Girl Named Zippy) returns to rural Indiana in her expansive third novel. Hazel Hunnicut is the proprietor of Hazel Hunnicut's Used World Emporium, "the station at the end of the line" for myriad antiques and junk in Jonah, Ind. With her passel of cats and distaste for convention, Hazel is eccentric but grudgingly beloved by her two employees: Claudia, a tall and lonely woman ostracized for her androgynous appearance, and Rebekah, who is still recovering from an oppressive Pentecostal upbringing. With a nudge from Hazel and the appearance of an abandoned infant (whose junkie mother, a friend of Hazel's junkie sister, is dead), the two women form a relationship, providing momentum as an unlikely family takes shape and hidden connections between the characters are revealed. The story has many satisfying layers, but melding them requires Kimmel to jump around in time, sometimes to confusing results (among the pasts visited are Rebekah's childhood; Hazel's upbringing and the backstory on her relationship with the locals; and dreamlike visions of a long-ago romance between a black groundskeeper and a white judge's daughter). It's an intriguing puzzle box of a novel with a few edges left unsanded. (Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kimmel returns to the rural, small-town Indiana landscape of her memoirs (She Got Up Off the Couch, 2006, etc.) and her first novel (The Solace of Leaving Early, 2002), as well as to some favorite themes-beloved mothers; absent fathers; and what it means to be a Christian today. Hazel, whose tough old hide conceals a soft heart, owns the eponymous second-hand store. There she employs Claudia, a mannishly big, desperately lonely woman in her 40s, and petite, 20-something Rebekah. Claudia has always avoided venturing beyond the bosom of her family and is still mourning her mother's death three years ago when Hazel manipulates her into caring for an abandoned baby. After her own adored mother's death, Rebekah rejected the strict Christian sect within which she was raised but has continued to live at home with her dictatorial father Vernon. When Rebekah's boyfriend gets her pregnant and disappears, Vernon kicks Rebekah out. Hazel convinces Rebekah to go to Claudia's for refuge. Suddenly Claudia finds herself with both a baby and a young woman to love. Interspersed with the ups and downs of Claudia and Rebekah's relationship as they form a makeshift family is the story of Hazel's adolescence during the 1960s and her past connection to Vernon, the novel's obvious villain. Hazel's best friend Finney, whom Hazel loved, perhaps more than platonically, became involved with a married man-Vernon. Jim, a young man who loved Hazel, married Finney to protect her when she became pregnant with Vernon's child. Vernon's violent attempt to take Finney's infant for his wife to adopt caused Finney's death, Jim's brain damage and the stillbirth of a boy who would have been Rebekah's brother. As if to counterVernon's narrow-minded brand of Christianity, Kimmel inserts conversation with Claudia's enlightened Christian minister Amos, whose relationship with Claudia remains a red herring. Although Kimmel can write with real charm, the characters feel manufactured in this overly schematic plot.
Read an Excerpt
Claudia Modjeski stood before a full-length mirror in the bedroom she'd inherited from her mother, pointing the gun in her right hand a Colt .44 Single Action Army with a nickel finish and a walnut grip at her reflected image. The mirror showed nothing above Claudia's shoulders, because the designation 'full-length' turned out to be as arbitrary as 'one-size.' It may have fit plenty, but it didn't fit her. The .44 was a collector's gun, a cowboy's gun purchased at a weapons show she'd attended with Hazel Hunnicutt last Christmas, without bothering to explain to Hazel (or to herself) why she thought she needed it.
She sat down heavily on the end of her mother's bed. Ludie Modjeski's bed, in Ludie's room. The gun rested in Claudia's slack hand. She had put it away the night before because eliminating the specificity that was Claudia meant erasing all that remained of her mother in this world, what was ambered in Claudia's memory: Christmas, for instance, and the hard candies Ludie used to make each year. There were peppermint ribbons, pink with white stripes. There were spearmint trees and horehound drops covered with sugar crystals. The recipes, the choreography of her mother's steps across the kitchen, an infinity of moments remembered only by her daughter, those too would die.
But tonight she would put the gun back in its case because of the headless cowboy she'd seen in the mirror. Her pajama bottoms had come from the estate of an old man; the top snap had broken, so they were being held closed with a safety pin. The cuffs fell a good two inches above her shins, and when she sat down the washed-thin flannel rode up so vigorously, her revealed legs looked as shocked and naked as refugees from a flash flood. In place of a pajama top, she wore a blue chenille sweater so large that had it been unraveled, there would have been enough yarn to fashion into a yurt. Claudia had looked in her mirror and heard Ludie say, a high, hidden laugh in her voice, Poor old thing, and wasn't it the truth, which didn't make living any easier.
The Colt had no safety mechanism, other than the traditional way it was loaded: a bullet in the first chamber, second chamber empty, four more bullets. Always five, never six. She put the gun away, listened to the radiators throughout the house click and sigh and generally give up their heat with reluctance. But give up they did, and so did Claudia, at least for one more night, this December 15.
Rebekah Shook lay uneasy in the house of her father, Vernon, in an old part of town, the place farmers moved after the banks had foreclosed and the factories were still hiring. She slept like a foreign traveler in a room too small for the giants of her past: the songs, the language, the native dress. Awake, she rarely understood where she was or what she was doing or if she passed for normal, and in dreams she traversed a featureless, pastel landscape that undulated beneath her feet. She looked for her mother, Ruth, who (like Ludie) was dead and gone and could not be conjured; she searched for her family, the triangle of herself and her parents. There were tones that never rang clear, distant lights that were never fully lit and never entirely extinguished. She remembered she had taken a lover, but had not seen him in twenty-eight...no, thirty-one days. Thirty-one days was either no time at all or quite long indeed, and to try to determine which she woke herself up and began counting, then drifted off again and lost her place. Once she had been thought dear, a treasure, the little red-haired Holiness girl whose laughter sparkled like light on a lake; now she stood outside the gates of her father's Prophecy, asleep inside his house. Her hair tumbled across her pillow and over the edge of the bed: a flame.
Only Hazel Hunnicutt slept soundly, cats claiming space all around her. The proprietor of Hazel Hunnicutt's Used World Emporium the station at the end of the line for objects that sometimes appeared tricked into visiting there often dreamed of the stars, although she never counted them. Her nighttime ephemera included Mercury in retrograde; Saturn in the trine position (a fork in the hand of an old man whose dinner is, in the end, all of us); the Lion, the Virgin, the Scorpion; and figures of the cardinal, the banal, the venal. Hazel was the oldest of the three women by twenty years; she was their patron, and the pause in their conversation. Only she still had a mother (although Hazel would have argued it is mothers who have us); only she could predict the coming weather, having noticed the spill of a white afghan in booth #43 and the billowing of a man's white shirt as he stepped from the front of her store into the heat of the back. White white white. The color of purity and wedding gowns and rooms in the underworld where girls will not eat, but also just whiteness for its own sake. If Hazel were awake she would argue for logic's razor and say that the absence of color is what it is, or what it isn't. But she slept. Her hand twitched slightly, a gesture that would raise the instruments in an orchestra, and her cat Mao could not help but leap at the hand, but he did not bite.
In the Used World Emporium itself, nothing lived, nothing moved, but the air was thick with expectancy nonetheless. It was a cavernous space, filled with the castoffs of countless lives, as much a grave in its way as any ruin. The black eyes of the rocking horses glittered like the eyes of a carp; the ivory keys of an old piano were once the tusks of an African elephant. The racks of period clothing hung motionless, wineskins to be filled with a new vintage. The bottles, the bellows, the genuine horse-drawn sleigh now bedecked with bells and garlands: these were not stories. They were not ideas. They were just objects, consistent so far from moment to moment, waiting for daybreak like everything else.
It was mid-December in Jonah, Indiana, a place where Fate can be decided by the weather, and a storm was gathering overhead.
Copyright © 2007 by Haven Kimmel