Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh
Next, Ken marries Joan, a woman who would have been Birdie's polar opposite when she was in her prime, making a living as a journalist, the only woman reporter in her bureau at the Times, unencumbered by society's ideas of a stereotypical female, uninterested in keeping house and having babies, that is, until breast cancer makes an appearance in her life. The cancer spares her life but robs her of more than one breast. When Ken shows up in her life, she's desperate for companionship and to have the children and the life that she never wanted, but as they marry and Ken begins to excel in his real estate career, things don't turn out anything like she was expecting.
Finally, there is Dinah. Dinah babysat for Ken and Birdie's kids when she was a girl and chances to meet Ken again years later in Washington, DC, where she works as a chef, when he hits her with his car. Having suffered a broken ankle that keeps her from working and makes living in her dangerous neighborhood even more dangerous, and with the promise of the possibility of surgery to erase an ugly birthmark that has marred not just her face, but her whole life, Dinah feels she has no choice but to accept the help Ken has to offer. One thing leads to another until Dinah becomes elderly Ken's final bride.
Mr. Kimble is, by all accounts, a selfish jerk, a pervy guy with a taste for younger women who should be forbidden territory. He is that guy that charms a bit at first but soon reveals himself to be a liar, a cheat, and worse. Readers will hate Ken Kimble, and they should, because it's in their eagerness to be seduced by and married to Ken Kimble, that his wives' characters are most revealed.
In the three wives, Haigh has created three memorable characters whose frailties are revealed and badly exploited by the husband they choose. Each character is both irritating and sympathetic as Haigh draws out their respective pasts and their relationships with Kimble. A vulnerability is displayed in each of the three characters that every woman should find as relateable as it is frustrating. If you're anything like me, you'll find the voice in your head crying out at these women not to get involved with this guy, just like it cries out at those boneheads in horror movies who hear that sketchy noise and venture to the basement to investigate while the power is out on a dark stormy night only to be brutally murdered. The women in Haigh's book aren't about to be murdered, but their respective marriages to Kimble are certainly poisonous.
Mrs. Kimble has something profound to say about women and perhaps even about feminism. It makes it altogether apparent that there is a line to be walked between being a woman who chooses to be a housewife who lets her husband stand between her and the world and being the woman who puts aside home and family to chase after a career that may or my not fulfill her. Haigh seems to be drawing out the possibility that erring too much in either direction can leave a woman dangerously vulnerable.
Mrs. Kimble is an interesting read, but not a quick one. The stories of Mr. Kimble's three wives bear a lot of contemplation. I would hardily recommend Mrs. Kimble as a great book group read and wish that I had read it in a book group. The books is good and stands up on its own, but the possibility it opens up for conversations about women's lives in the past and in the future is much more tantalizing.
(Random.org picked this one from my own shelf. Interesting change of pace, no?)