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The Used World: A Novel

The Used World: A Novel

4.0 12
by Haven Kimmel

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"It was mid-December in Jonah, Indiana, a place where Fate can be decided by the weather, and a storm was gathering overhead." So Haven Kimmel, bestselling author of A Girl Named Zippy, prepares us to enter The Used World -- a world where big hearts are frequently broken and sometimes repaired; where the newfangled and the old-fashioned battle it out in


"It was mid-December in Jonah, Indiana, a place where Fate can be decided by the weather, and a storm was gathering overhead." So Haven Kimmel, bestselling author of A Girl Named Zippy, prepares us to enter The Used World -- a world where big hearts are frequently broken and sometimes repaired; where the newfangled and the old-fashioned battle it out in daily encounters both large and small; where wondrous things unfold just beneath the surface of everyday life; and where the weather is certainly biblical and might just be prophetic.

Hazel Hunnicutt's Used World Emporium is a sprawling antique store that is "the station at the end of the line for objects that sometimes appeared tricked into visiting there." Hazel, the proprietor, is in her sixties, and it's a toss-up as to whether she's more attached to her mother or her cats. She's also increasingly attached to her two employees: Claudia Modjeski -- freakishly tall, forty-odd years old -- who might finally be undone by the extreme loneliness that's dogged her all of her life; and Rebekah Shook, pushing thirty, still living in her fervently religious father's home, and carrying the child of the man who recently broke her heart. The three women struggle -- separately and together, through relationships, religion, and work -- to find their place in this world. And it turns out that they are bound to each other not only by the past but also by the future, as not one but two babies enter their lives, turning their formerly used world brand-new again.

Astonishing for what it reveals about the human capacity for both grace and mischief, The Used World forms a loose trilogy with Kimmel's two previous novels, The Solace of Leaving Early and Something Rising (Light and Swift). This is a book about all of America by way of a single midwestern town called Jonah, and the actual breathing histories going on as Indiana's stark landscape is transformed by dying small-town centers and proliferating big-box stores and SUVs. It's about generations of deception, anguish, and love, and the idiosyncratic ways spirituality plays out in individual lives. By turns wise and hilarious, tender and fierce, heartrending and inspiring, The Used World charts the many meanings of the place we call home.

Editorial Reviews

Donna Rifkind
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
Publishers Weekly

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
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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The Used World

A Novel
By Haven Kimmel

Free Press

Copyright © 2007 Haven Kimmel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780743247788


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 momentsremembered 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 (c) 2007 by Haven Kimmel


Excerpted from The Used World by Haven Kimmel Copyright © 2007 by Haven Kimmel. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Haven Kimmel is the author of The Used World, She Got Up Off the Couch, Something Rising (Light and Swift), The Solace of Leaving Early, and A Girl Named Zippy. She studied English and creative writing at Ball State University and North Carolina State University and attended seminary at the Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Durham, N.C.

Brief Biography

Durham, North Carolina
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Mooreland, Indiana
B.A., Ball State University

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The Used World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
yosemite3 More than 1 year ago
I read A Girl Named Zippy, and I thought it was okay. But this book is much better. It's beautifully descriptive, tracing the stories of three women friends who work together. It goes back in time to their childhoods, focusing on familial and romantic relationships, with unexpected ties in the end. Can't wait to read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. When I read, I go for content and writing style and I was not disappointed. Kimmel's writing is outstanding and kept my interest every step of the way. Her descriptions were vivid and captivating and the characters well-formed. I felt like I was walking right next to the characters through the emporium. After finishing this, I purchased 2 more of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book! The author's writing style is outstanding. The novel starts out slow, but stick with it. I almost stopped reading, but I'm so glad I didn't. Once you start to get into it, you won't be able to put it down. I fell in love with these characters and all their ups and downs. It's a look at the lives of characters you can relate to.
flteacher4 More than 1 year ago
I read this book as part of a book club. At first, this book seemed to intrigue me, but the book took a downhill turn very quickly. The plot reverts back to the past and at times I could not figure out who the author was referring to. The book is quite confusing at times and almost made me unsure if I would be able to finish it. However, this book made for a GREAT book club book as we had lively conversations due to the fact that most of us did not fully comprehend the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Three lonely 'outcasts/outsiders' bound together by an uncommon love and a serious, tragic secret -- it is the stuff a great book is made of and The Used World delivers. The characters are rich, and the storyline thrilling, though the very beginning is a bit slow -- but well worth holding on.
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hestia More than 1 year ago
The world in this book entwined itself so perfectly I cried at the end. it is not sentimental, but a perfect example of love.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is quite different from most of the fiction I have been reading lately.