Fiction; Contemporary Literature
I picked this to review for the Amazon Vine program because the synopsis was so intriguing in its reference to a young woman struggling with psychosis, but I may have gotten more than I bargained for in the end.
I knew it would be dark, and indeed it was. The protagonist begins as Trace Pennington, a literally-starving university student (psychology, no less) who lives in an abandoned house with her dog and a pile of journals. A few interactions indicate that may be in hiding, although it’s not clear from who or what although glimpses of a horrific past come to light when least expected. As the story progresses she becomes Ianthe, and it’s never entirely clear if this is a purposeful change in identity in order to continue hiding, or if she’s actually a multiple personality. Perhaps a combination of the two, because there is so much blurring of the lines of lucidity here that if the reader can’t tell, maybe it’s because the writer can’t either.
The author weaves ‘dream journal’ segments into the narrative, but both the journal and the story itself are so rambling and discordant that it becomes impossible to ferret out what is real and what is not. Was the dog real or a figment of imagination from the past? What DID happen between Trace and her beloved (too beloved) father? What actually happened to her brother Billy? Did she even have a brother? As Ianthe, she becomes involved with one of her professors and even marries him….I think. It’s really not clear. The passages where Trace visits her old friend Candy, who is being horrifically beaten on a daily basis by whom we assume is her husband but she claims is an alien (yes, you read that correctly), are compelling but ultimately confusing and unfinished.
I was able – I think – to get glimpses of truth here and there, but it was like picking sand out of the carpet and although that was probably the author’s intent, in the end I was left dissatisfied. I haven’t read anything by this young author before, but I’ve heard that her previous novel, A Girl Named Zippy, was very well-received and of a completely different nature than this dark and complex tale. Kimmel obviously has tremendous potential and talent, and that’s what leaves me more frustrated than anything. She seems to have a perception of people, especially in the surreal world of academia, that is dead-on, and her skill at bringing that out on paper is stunning and alone is almost worth the read. Even just a fractionally more lucid offering from her would be welcome. I do appreciate what she was trying to do here; I just didn’t care for it as much as I would have if it had been structured a little more cleanly.
I’m right in the Goldilocks middle on this one. I can’t recommend it heartily due to my reservations about its lack of cohesion and clarity, but it was interesting and Kimmel does have a compelling style I’d like to see more of.