Mrs. Kimble

Mrs. Kimble

by Jennifer Haigh

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Overview

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

In her masterful first novel Mrs. Kimble, Jennifer Haigh delivers the compelling story of three women who marry the same man -- an enigmatic opportunist named Ken Kimble.

Birdie. 1961.

He was the choir director at a Southern Bible college. At practice she followed his hands with her eyes. Watching him, she thought of the Pietà: Mary weeping over her son's crucified body, his naked arms smooth as milk, his chest delicately ribbed like the underside of a flower. She imagined his shoulders bare beneath his shirt, his body long and white. One evening he approached her after practice.

Joan. 1969.

She met him at a pool party in Florida. His lank dark hair hung to his shoulders; he wore faded jeans and a colorful cotton blouse. His eyes were a startling blue. No man had touched her in a year. He was engaged to someone else.

Dinah. 1979

They met by accident in Washington, D.C. Their paths had intersected once before, when she was a teenager. "You're a beautiful girl," he'd told her, oblivious to the hideous scar on her face. He was old enough to be her father.

Kimble is revealed through the eyes of the women he seduces: his first wife, Birdie Bell, who struggles to hold herself together in the months following his desertion; his second wife, Joan Cohen, a lonely heiress shaken by personal tragedy, who sees in Kimble her last chance at happiness; and finally Dinah Whitacre, a beautiful but damaged woman half his age. Woven throughout is the story of Kimble's son, Charlie, whose life is forever affected by a father he barely remembers. Ken Kimble is a chameleon, a man able to become, at least for a while, all things to all women. To each of the three Mrs. Kimbles, he appears as a hero to whom powerful needs and nameless longings may be attached. Only later do they glimpse the truth about this elusive, unknowable man.

A captivating exploration of human love, marriage, and the illusions upon which it is founded, Mrs. Kimble presents a fascinating psychological portrait of a mesmerizing opportunist and the women who believe in him. Beautifully wrought, stunningly original, Jennifer Haigh's sparkling debut marks the arrival of a remarkable new talent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062062611
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/03/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 394
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Haigh is the author of the short-story collection News from Heaven and four critically acclaimed novels: Faith, The Condition, Baker Towers, and Mrs. Kimble. Her books have won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for work by a New England writer. Her short fiction has been published widely, in The Atlantic, Granta, The Best American Short Stories, and many other places. She lives in Boston.

Hometown:

Boston, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

October 16, 1968

Place of Birth:

Barnesboro, Pennsylvania

Education:

B.A., Dickinson College, 1990; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 2002

Read an Excerpt

Birdie
Virginia
1969
Charlie's mother sat cross-legged on the living room floor, her nightgown pulled over her knees, a spill of photographs scattered across the faded carpet. Years later he would remember the sound of the scissors' blades gnawing into the glossy paper, his little sister Jody wailing in the background, the determined look on their mother's face.

She had been drinking; her teeth were stained blue from the wine. She worked methodically, the tip of her tongue peeping out the corner of her mouth. The defaced photos she stacked in a neat pile: Christmases, family picnics, Fourths of July, each with a jagged oval where his father's face had been. One by one she slid the photos back into their frames. She climbed unsteadily to her feet and placed the frames back on the mantelpiece, the sideboard table, the naked hooks dotting the cracked plaster wall.

"Better," she said under her breath. She took Jody by the hand and led her into the kitchen. Charlie dropped to his knees and picked through the pile of trash on the floor. He made a pile of his father's heads, some smiling, some wearing a cap or sunglasses. He filled his pockets with the tiny heads and scrabbled out the back door.

His father was there and then he wasn't. A long time ago he'd taken them to church. Charlie could remember being lifted onto the hard pew, the large freckled hand covering his entire back. He remembered playing with the gold watchband peeking out from under his father's sleeve, and the red imprint it left on the skin underneath.

His father had a special way of eating. He rolled back the cuffs of his shirt, then buttered two slices of bread and placed them on either side of the plate. Finally he mixed all his food into a big pile -- peas, roast, mashed potatoes -- and ate loudly, the whole meal in a few minutes. Charlie had tried mixing his own food together, but found himself unable to eat it; the foods disgusted him once they touched, and his mother got mad at the mess on his plate.

His father made pancakes, and sucked peppermints, and whistled when he drove them in the car. On the floor of his closet, he kept a coffee can full of change. Each night lying in bed, Charlie would wait for the sound of his father emptying his pockets into the can, nickels and dimes landing with recognizable sounds, some tinny, some dry and dusty. It was always the last thing that happened. Once he heard the coins fall, Charlie would go to sleep.

Birdie was unwell. It was mid-morning when she opened her eyes, the room filled with sunlight. She rolled over and felt a sharp pain over her right eye. The other side of the bed was still made, the pillow tucked neatly under the chenille spread. She had remained a considerate sleeper, as if her sleeping self hadn't yet figured out that the whole bed was hers alone.

She lay there a moment, blinking. She had been dreaming of her childhood. In the dream she was small, younger than Charlie; she and Curtis Mabry, the housekeeper's son, had hidden in the laundry hampers. "You nearly give me a heart attack," said the housekeeper when she discovered them. "You're lucky I don't tell your mother."

Through the thin walls she heard movement, the bright tinkling music of morning cartoons. She lifted herself out of bed, her nylon nightgown clinging to her back. In the living room the children looked up from the television.

"Mummy," Jody squealed, springing off the couch and running to hug her leg. She wore shortie pajamas, printed with blue daisies.

Birdie wondered for a moment who'd dressed the child for bed. She couldn't remember doing it herself.

"Can I go outside?" said Charlie. He lay sprawled on the rug, too close to the television.

"May I go outside please," she corrected him. "Yes, you may."

He scrambled to his feet, already in socks and sneakers. The screen door spanked shut behind him. Birdie unwrapped Jody's small arms from her leg. "Let me get you some breakfast," she said. The children seemed to lie in wait for her, to ambush her the moment she crawled out of bed, full of energy and raging needs. At such times it could be altogether too much -- her stomach squeezed, the sign of a rough morning ahead -- for one person.

She took Jody into the kitchen. It was a point of pride for Birdie: her kitchen was always immaculate. The room simply wasn't used. She hadn't cooked in weeks, hadn't shopped except for brief trips to Beckwith's corner store, to buy wine and overpriced loaves of bread.

She found the box in the cupboard and poured the cereal into Jody's plastic bowl, decorated with pictures of a cartoon cat. She opened the refrigerator and a sour smell floated into the kitchen. The milk had spoiled.

"Oops," she said, smiling brightly. She ought to pour it down the drain, but the very thought of sour milk turned her stomach; she left the carton where it was. She eyed the wine bottle corked with a paper napkin. Beside it an unopened bottle, the one she hadn't got to last night. She closed the door.

"Looks like it's toast for us," she said. She put two slices of bread in the toaster. She hadn't finished the bottle, so why did she feel so wretched? On Sunday night she'd had two full bottles, and not so much as a headache when she woke the next morning.

The toast popped, the sound a jolt to her heart. Perhaps she hadn't overindulged, just consumed unwisely. She'd already learned that red wine hit her hardest, that a small meal -- toast or crackers -- cushioned the stomach and allowed her to drink more. Beyond that, the workings of alcohol were still a mystery. It seemed to hit her harder at certain times in her monthly cycle; why, she couldn't imagine. She wondered if this were true for other women. She had no one to ask. Her mother was dead, and anyway had never touched anything stronger than lemonade. Her father's new wife probably did drink, but Birdie couldn't imagine talking to Helen about this or anything else.

"Butter?" Jody asked.

"Sorry, button." Birdie spread the bread with grape jelly and thought of the wine.

She would have been married eight years that Tuesday.

Reading Group Guide

Our Book Club Recommendation
Jennifer Haigh’s Mrs. Kimble is a book about illusions, about the secrets we keep from one another, and the consequences of that secrecy. Through portraits of three women, each married in turn to the same mysterious man, the author explores what happens when a seemingly ordinary person maintains a double life – and the sometimes explosive results when secrets come out. While Haigh’s tale has elements in common with a conventional mystery or thriller, her interest is in the emotional world of those who discover -- sometimes too late -- that a loved one is not at all what he seems.

Mrs. Kimble is first and foremost about the consequences of deception in marriage, the seductive powers of Ken Kimble’s ever-shifting persona, and the consequences for each wife, as she begins to see beneath the appealing surface he crafts for her. Each story provides opportunity to discuss this portrait of the secretive personality, why it is that Kimble can so easily -- and believably -- transform himself to meet different women’s ideals.

Haigh’s novel also raises larger questions about how much self-deception can play a part in the making of a relationship. In each of the marriages portrayed in Mrs. Kimble, the wife subtly participates in the maintenance of silence about the husband’s past -- and sometimes about much of his present life. Without blaming them for his actions, the author offers us something more complex than mere villainy on the part of a selfish man.

In their pursuit of what is perhaps a false notion of love, these three women choose to look past danger signs, not merely about Ken Kimble but also about themselves. Haigh invites us to talk about how it is that our fears and shame are exacerbated by silence, and how our illusions about ourselves can stand between us and the reality of life, and of love. (Bill Tipper)

From the Publisher

Introduction
Deftly exploring the poignant landscape of longing, Mrs. Kimble traces the lives of three women who marry the same opportunistic man, a chameleon named Ken Kimble. He seduces each of them with sensitivity and generosity, and with his obsessively perfected physique. But marriage reveals Ken's true persona--elusive, workaholic, and hungry for extramarital affairs. All three of his wives are sustained by the hope that he will once again become the hero they fell in love with. For Ken's children, the reality of their father's absence is at once devastating and indelible. And for Ken himself, the price of maintaining illusions appears to be negligible.

Spanning four decades in the life of a tantalizingly unknowable man, Mrs. Kimble vividly portrays the pain of unequal affections. In a voice that is neither maudlin nor sentimental, Jennifer Haigh has crafted a debut novel that captures journeys of the heart in a wholly original way. We hope that the following questions will enhance your discussion of this provocative triumph in fiction.

Discussion Topics
1. Consider the similarities and differences among Birdie, Joan, and Dinah. Is there a common thread that attracts Ken to each of them?

2. Joan and Dinah have physical traits that cause them to feel self-conscious and prone to rejection. Do you consider Birdie's vulnerabilities to be equally physical in nature, or are they purely emotional?

3. What motivates Ken? In your opinion, what enables him to so suddenly shift from being charming to vapid? To what do you attribute his compulsive dishonesty?

4. The novel's title reflects the tradition of taking a husband's surname after marriage. All of Ken's wives change their last names and become Mrs. Kimble. What does this indicate about the tradition, gender, power, and identity in Ken's marriages?

5. Birdie appears in all three parts of the novel. What were your initial impressions of her? Did your opinion of her shift as her life story unfolded?

6. American society experienced significant changes between the 1960s and the 1990s. Did this appear to affect Ken's various marriages, or was his behavior consistent across the mores of all decades?

7. How might Birdie's life have been different had her father not interfered with her attraction to Curtis Mabry? What is the effect of the Mabry family's presence in the novel?

8. Though the novel's characters are for the most part indifferent to spirituality, religion provides a frequent backdrop in Mrs. Kimble. What is the significance of Ken's Bible school past? How did you react when he convinced Joan of his Jewish heritage?

9. Do you believe that Ken's abandonment of Birdie was the sole cause of her emotional breakdown? How might her life have played out if he hadn't left her?

10. How does Ken's departure affect his children's attitude toward love? Do their relationships reflect or defy their parents' example?

11. Jennifer Haigh builds the storyline of Mrs. Kimble around brief scenes rather than lengthy, uninterrupted chapters. What is the effect of this technique?

12. Ken is not the only predatory man in the novel; Birdie is exploited by the mechanic she meets as a waitress, for example. Do the novel's characterizations of men and women match your own experience with the opposite sex?

13. With which of Ken's wives were you most able to relate? How would you have responded in each of their situations?

14. Though Ken is the most obviously secretive character in the novel, all of his wives possess a certain degree of secrecy and denial. Do you believe that it's possible to lead a completely honest life -- including self honesty?

15. Ken is an enigma, yet his character is drawn in rich detail. Discuss the significance of his vanity, his attraction to younger women, and his apparent inability to love or show genuine affection. What is the relevance of his conservative childhood, particularly the death of his brother?

16. Food is mentioned throughout the novel, including Charlie's perpetual hunger as a child; Birdie's botched attempts to buy groceries; Ken's aversion to seafood, which causes Joan to tailor her menus; and Dinah's Thanksgiving reunion and culinary expertise. Discuss some of your most meaningful memories regarding food.

17. What makes Ken's cause of death particularly ironic and fitting?

18. While there are clearly three Mrs. Kimbles, are there also three Mr. Kimbles? Does each wife represent a separate identity for Ken?

19. What variations on love (parental, romantic, erotic) are presented in Mrs. Kimble? Which characters appear to experience the most authentic forms of love?

20. The novel closes with Ken's children brought together by Dinah. Charlie embraces his role as Brendan's big brother and father figure. What do you predict for the family after Ken's death?

About the Author:
Jennifer Haigh's short fiction has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Idaho Review, Global City Review, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of Dickinson College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was awarded a 2002 James A. Michener Fellowship. Raised in small-town Pennsylvania, she now lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Mrs. Kimble 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
bookwormmom4 More than 1 year ago
Why do women marry? Why do women marry the wrong man? "Mrs. Kimble" addresses marriage from the 1960's through the 1990's. What makes a woman want to marry? Social pressure? Need? Dreams? In this book, one man charms his way into the lives of three women and leaves behind questionable love, confusion and children. That is nothing compared to what he takes from each marriage. I enjoyed this book very much. It is an easy read, but glossed over years. I would have liked to read more about the characters through the years rather than over the years. Maybe it was written this way to show the main character's character. I do recommend reading "Mrs. Kimble".
Hill_Ravens More than 1 year ago
Amazing consolidation of generational views towards how both women see marriage in their lives and how men see women in marriage. The three women Mr. Kimble ends up with are unique, intelligent and challenged women in their own right, add him to the mix and the story is not always going to end happy. As much as one would want to blame him for all the errors and complications in their lives, the women played their own cards and were always content settling for less except when kids were involved. I feel this book highlights exactly why kids are not a valid reason to stay in failed marriages. It was refreshing to read a book about real life that wasn't plastic, but real for a change. I am delighted this book was recommended to me and I enjoyed it much more than expected. However, it is not a book for everyone, if you are the kind of person who believes true love conquers all, don't read this book, it will be too real for your perceptions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't stop reading this book. It has a great story line. A great read for the beach or a rainy day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What do a poor drunk woman, a rich woman with breast cancer, and a waitress have in common? The answer is Ken Kimble. Hence the books title Mrs. Kimble. Haigh winds you around the bizarre twists and turns of Ken Kimble¿s love life.
Ken Kimble has a very perplexing personality. First, Haigh makes the reader believe that Ken Kimble is a choir director at a Southern Bible college. The thing that sets a little doubt in the readers mind about Mr. Kimble is that he runs off and marries one of his students, Birdie. Birdie and Ken have two children, but one day Ken leaves. Not only does this cause a lot of emotional damage on the children, it makes Birdie turn to alcohol to solve her problems.
Joan becomes Kimble¿s next wife/victim. The bells go off in your head that something is not quite right about him because he was engaged to another woman before he stared dating Joan. In this stage of his life, Ken is staged as a hippie, until he meets Joan¿s uncle and then he goes into real estate. Joan¿s father had just recently died and she had been living in his mansion. At their wedding, Ken makes Joan believe he is Jewish. Remember he was a teacher at a Baptist school in his last marriage. Joan wants children. Fortunately Joan and Ken aren¿t able to have any. Ken decides to do another shady thing; he kidnaps his children from his first marriage. Luckily the kids are smart enough to run away back to their alcoholic mother. Joan gets breast cancer, again and dies. She leaves Ken everything.
A few years later, Ken marries yet again. This time he marries the babysitter of his first marriage. He marries a waitress, Dinah. In the last chapter of his life, Ken becomes a very rich man. He buys houses and then sells them for cheap to low-income families. This doesn¿t make sense how he is making a profit. Obviously he isn¿t building them up to the government¿s standards. The government realizes this and goes after Kimble. As always, two steps ahead, Ken goes on the lamb.
What baffles me is it appears as if each woman becomes happier with Ken Kimble in her life. Obviously he is fake and has multiple personalities. He has issues and needs counseling. Each time things get rough in his marriages he leaves.
Haigh used a really neat way of defining the narrator. She titled the chapters by who the main narrator is. Interestingly, there are only three chapters. Of course they are titled Birdie, Joan and Dinah. Haigh does a very good job of using imagery. If you really analyze the story being told and the diction she uses, you get a better understanding of what she is trying to say to you.
Mrs. Kimble is really enjoyable book to read. It¿s one of those you just can¿t put down. I would recommend this book to a female audience because they would appreciate the essence of the novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely a quick read. I wanted to get to the end to see what would happen.
Sink222 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Good book club read, I was surprised i liked it. Its not the best book I've ever read, not in the top 10...but enjoyable.
DSlongwhite on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I went to the Hotel Marlowe in Boston for a reading and book signing by Jennifer Haigh and purchased this book. She was so young, I wistfully thought. At the book signing, she said she finished the book in one year and at that point it looked like the ultrasound of a baby. It took two more years of editing before she was ready to send it to a publisher.The book starts with Mr. Kimble dying alone in a car and then goes back thirty years and recounts his three marriages. Very intriguing as the reader is left asking, "Who really was Mr. Kimble?Great book.
writestuff on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A tale of three women who all marry the same man. Ken Kimble is an unforgettable character who preys on damaged women. Haigh is gifted in her ability to create memorable characters.
drpeff on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I enjoyed it very much. Kept me interested. Sometimes got confused w/the timeline & who was who.
krobbie67 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were a couple of places where I felt like the author gave short shrift to the story but it's a first novel and very enthralling.
sabrinanymph on LibraryThing 5 days ago
When I choose books that I buy - and I buy more than I ever used to due to not having a public library in easy access - there is almost always a process. I'm interested in the cover (and yes don't judge a book by its cover so clearly, I look at the next item which is...), the brief synopsis of the book. If I have not at this point been turned off - and occassionally I am turned off this easily because the book, although it had a fascinating cover, will be more cliche than a book of cliches. I usually open up to the first page. If the first sentence grabs me so well that I'm half way down the page or turning the page before I stop, the book is usually under consideration. If not for purchase, for getting later on through interlibrary loan.This book had the interesting cover, the interesting story blurb, and a truly interesting beginning. It was, in fact, the beginning that made me purchase it even though I hadn't been planning on buying anything that day... The book itself is an interesting book that follows the lives of the Three Mrs Kimbles. They are the stars of this story in a way that Mr Kimble although he one of the only characters that actually weaves consistently through the narrative, cannot be. After all, Mr Kimble is, in fact, a scoundrel.This is not a light story and in fact in some places is rather depressing. However, what I think I enjoyed about this book was the way the author was able to take these three women and describe real women with real fears and flaws and the very real reasons they might have been attracted to this man who was rarely what he claimed to be and in fact often was directly opposite of what he claimed to be. In the case of each woman it was personal insecurities that drew them to him and he was very good at preying on those insecurities to his advantage.Of course, the other character that weaves consistently through the narrative is Mr Kimble's son. This boy, the son of the first Mrs Kimble, is another constant in the story. The story of his mother is often told through his eyes, as are the stories of some of the other women as well. He moves from Mrs Kimble to Mrs Kimble until the end of the story when he is the only person who truly understands who or what his father is - although he never spent time around his father getting to know him. He concludes with the idea that perhaps to understand the man, you had to be his son - that no one else ever really knew him.
Donnalea2 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it was never boring. 
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Enjoyed this story look forward to more from this author.
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Mrs. Kimble gives the story of the three wives of Mr. Kimble. Through the lives of his wives, we learn what kind of man Mr. Kimble is....interesting approach using different points of view to tell the story in three segments.....
Darlene67 More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book when it was on sale. I did not have high hopes but there were several high ratings. I really enjoyed it. It was a quick read but I could not put it down.
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