The Solace of Leaving Early, by Haven Kimmel

Langston Braverman has come home to her small town of Haddington, Indiana, simply walking out of her PhD orals and abandoning that life and all its dreams. She takes refuge in the hot attic of her parents' home where she imagines that she is writing a novel. Or maybe an epic sonnet sequence. In reality she is mostly sleeping and contemplating the wreck of her life. In alternate chapters, we follow the town's minister, Amos Townsend, whose life has been a series of losses, each more grievous than the last. Both Amos and Langston find their lives transformed by the appearance of two damaged little girls.

I love the title and spent several days just pondering the words before opening the book. Kimmel says of the book that it is a retelling of A Confederacy of Dunces. It's been a while since I read that book, but I can certainly see Ignatius J. Reilly in Langston. She's almost annoyingly smart, confounding family and townspeople alike with her lectures on abstruse subjects. I can understand why one reviewer felt that the book bogged down in excessive references to religion, physics, psychology, and philosophy, and Langston herself one of the “most self-absorbed and annoying characters in recent memory. Langston, who seems perpetually mired in surly adolescence, cannot bear her reduced circumstances, finding every aspect of small town life excruciatingly insipid.”

However, I enjoyed Langston. I guess it helped that I have been rereading some of the subjects she expounds upon. Mostly I just enjoyed the way her mind works. Reading Kierkegaard in the hot attic, her thoughts begin to drift. “Langston closed her eyes, and her mind filled with images almost immediately, as if she were beginning to dream. She thought of Hermes Psychopompos, who leads us over thresholds: between life and death, between sleeping and waking. As the psychopomp, Hermes carries a staff of intertwining snakes.” And she's off on snakes and women and locusts.

I enjoyed following Amos about, too, though I struggled a bit at first with disentangling my mind from a Midwestern pastor named Ames in another novel that grapples with large ideas. Perhaps my next memoir will be titled Haunted by Books. From talking about big ideas, Solace gradually moves into playing them out in daily life. I adored the scenes between Langston and the girls, loving the way they talked to each other. I could have done with more about the unfolding of that relationship and also more about Langston's father, Walt, who sort of gets summed up at the end. But overall I liked the book a lot, finding it smart and funny and unexpected, just as I always found Kimmel's blog postings.

I mentioned recently that I’ve noticed bullying and abusive behavior on the Internet, and that blogs that I used to enjoy have had to be shut down. I'm not sure why Kimmel abandoned her popular blog in May of 2009, but given that there was no warning and the end came right after a lengthy post on a controversial subject, I suspect that she was targeted. It's a shame. Not only was Kimmel's blog fun and thought-provoking, it had become a gathering place for a community of people, addressed affectionately by Kimmel as her “blog babies”. Losing this online forum must have been detrimental to her career. There hasn't been a book from her since 2008's Iodine and I'm not finding any interviews or articles about her since the blog shut down. I hope she's just retired to a quiet place to do more writing and is not in hiding from cyber stalkers.

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