Sunday

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel - Book Review

Having previously trashed A Girl Named Zippy, I had very low expectations for The Solace of Leaving Early. Zippy made Kimmel famous, got her a spot on The Today Show, but Solace is much superior.

Amos Townsend is a thoughtful preacher suffering a crisis of fault in a small Indiana town. One of his parishioners has been murdered, leaving two orphaned daughters witness to her death. Langston Braverman, a washed up PhD candidate caught in a haze of existential contemplation, has returned to her childhood bedroom to hide from the world and Langston’s wise and affecting Mother, AnnaLee, knows just the medicine the egocentric Langston needs. The orphan girls need guidance and AnnaLee won’t rest until Langston starts thinking of someone other than herself. There’s a quirky grandma, a pillar of strength father, and a town of oddballs so real I can attest to their existence (I’m from close to the same place as Kimmel). The story progresses as we find out, along with Langston, what happened to the girl’s mother and the fate of the two orphans.

Kimmel certainly has a kind pen. There were so many passages of simple beauty in this little gem; I’ve a page full of quotes. One thing Kimmel does especially well is limiting the words while keeping the most thoughtful of meaning. However, her characterization is a bit uneven. I hated Langston for the first half of the book and wanted to throw fire on Amos to get him excited. It took some time to invest in either of them. Then, just as they were developing into nice little souls, the balls dropped, leaving the last third a bit too contrived (with a neat little bow and all). Back on a positive note, the plot movement isn't completely character driven as it is assisted by a who-done-it and there are just enough hints and secrets to keep us guessing.

One thing that might be viewed a failing is one of the things I found most endearing about the story. Kimmel uses lofty philosophers and authors like adjectives. All the name-dropping can be distracting and some might have difficulty believing that Indiana farmers sit around reading Kierkegaard and John Donne; but I know that not everyone in a small town is a pea brain. This analogous use of lofty ideals does a good job juxtaposing the simplistic nature of small town life.

My favorite thing about The Solace of Leaving Early was Kimmel’s faithful rendering of small town folks. They live their lives without question, in application and not theory. Langston’s life has been one of theory, her Mother’s one of application.

Definitely worth a look for anyone interested in the nuances of small town life or the implications of our choices, consequences and flawed perceptions.

Buy The Solace of Leaving Early HERE

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