I have goose bumps and there is a heat wave traveling to my palms, all the wrinkles are sweating. (This has nothing to do with the heat wave fawning over the country right now).
Guys, I just read the best book, Iodine, by Haven Kimmel. I’m going to go ahead and mark it as the best book I’ve read all year. Whenever I put it down, I had fantasies about e-mailing Haven Kimmel and meeting her in the old meat packing district of Durham to have long walks and wear red lipstick. I’m so lucky that I come from a state where people write like this. (Fangirling for a moment – she went to my college and lives in a city 15 minutes from my own, excuse me while I sweat some more. Thank God for Dove deodorant). She’s my new literary heroine roosting in one of the crime capitals of the US. Where do I even start…with a poem:
She is the most beautiful of three
beautiful sisters, and you have said no
to her after the angels said yes.
What is that small planet, the secret
concealed in her dress?
It is something she swallowed that once
grew but ceased growing. She will carry it
through the orchard, to the seaport, and all
the way home; it is her stone
child. It is your child, turned to stone,
white as winter birch, and on this rock
the angels are building their church (175).
I wish I could put all my thoughts in a drawer and let them gather like panties around popuri. I’m never at a loss for words, but for some reason I can’t even think straight when I try to tell you how amazing this book is. Not only is it a work of art, but it’s smart. You know, when you read a book and you’re like “damn, this author is really smart – she must have scored extremely high on her SATs” and you’re reading the philosophical moments of the novel (about Freud, Jung, and mythology) and you’re like, “what kind of research did this novel take?” Let me just repeat something Sally @ The Seventeenth Line said: “Iodine, from the Greek iodes meaning violet, is an essential trace element (Trace) for life and the heaviest element commonly needed by living organisms.” Now, how smart does an author have to be to go that in depth with just a character and title name? I can only imagine Kimmel sitting in a cabin at some famous writer’s residency and scribbling against a desk so close to its tree state that it gives splinters. I love a book that is so well written that the reader can tell how hard the author worked to get it to come together. Let me explain:
This book is like the novel version of Yellow Wallpaper only the main character isn’t stuck in a room, but out in small-town public. There’s a character who may be Trace Pennington or may be Ianthe Covington, we aren’t entirely sure. Trace Pennington could be a person who invents an identity to deal with things in her past, or Ianthe can be a woman who hallucinates that she used to be someone named Trace Pennington. She has a family that may or may not be there including a brother she both calls and writes too, but can never find his address or phone number. She has a sister who has puffs of hair that she picks at when she’s nervous, lips that are bitten, feral drugged eyes. There is also a best friend named Candy who is a strong piece of the triangle and believes that she is being used as an incubator for extraterrestrial children. Trace found Candy when she crossed over a hill at a Coyote’s word that she would find her best friend there (yes, strange I know…aliens and talking coyotes). Trace is a narrator who lives with a black dog known as Weeds who is a totem for her entire story. She uses a truck stop shower, a pay phone by an unknown bakery, and visits her friend Candy often, although Candy’s family seems to be slowly disappearing as the novel progresses. Even the dogs are backing up into darkness.
This book really details what abuse can channel. How do people crawl out from abuse and absurdity. I think whenever we watch a horror story on the news; we gasp and forget that that happens in the world. We purposefully block out the ugly and the scattered. It’s hard for the human mind to make sense of abuse, neglect, horror, and then even harder for the mind to take on the triumph after those things. Just last week, I saw that Elizabeth Smart will be hosting her own show on missing people and I said, “how is that possible that she would want to relive her own past every time she steps in front of the screen?”
I have hardly any sense of injustice because nothing tyrannical has ever happened to me. I can’t understand the Holocaust, or understand Sandusky, or contemplate mass murder. It’s just too much for me in a world where I can buy out of season fruit and drive a car in the dusty heat. I think humans can block this out for many reasons. My number one reason is because it isn’t considered normal and it isn’t involved in our day-to-day. But if it is, how do you control your own emotional response to abuse. I’m not sure how victims can react with patience and beauty. For Trace, it’s like a novel of hide n’ seek. Do you cross to the shadow, or do you walk out into the light?
That’s just her past.
She eventually marries a professor who has his own odd past, that may or may not be Ianthe’s past that she is discovering and opening through him. There are a lot of locked doors that may be mental and may be physical. This wife, has moments of clarity and I’m honestly still unsure when she is daydreaming and when she is actually living. You know what Freud says about daydreaming. (I love that daydreaming is one word as if it’s a completely different act from sleep dreaming. Daydreaming is something different though. It’s much more white, more linen).
Because this book is so mind-driven it’s really hard for me to talk about. Every detail is so perfectly placed that I can’t talk about one thing without spoiling another. I do want to warn you that the first sentence is, “I never\ I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed” (1). I want you to know that you will get over it. You will see past this disturbing sentence and grow to care about Ianthe and want to know the deep mysteries of her mind. You won’t find anything out until the bitter end when everything goes sour and dark like a period.
I had no trouble reading this book, but lots of people claim that the stream-of-consciousness really throws them off. However, when you open a book with an unreliable narrator you should expect that nothing will make sense – you will be half-conscious, half-lucid, half-here, half-there, half-in-one-sentence, and half nobody.
Look, there’s a discussion on Kimmel’s blog of this book. I want you to read the book and then read the discussion. I can’t even talk about how well-written this book is, or how core-driven this story is. It’s like one giant expandable map of a character world. I think that I find Ianthe such a wonderful character because I can see myself in her illness, her hallucinations. We may not all truly believe that we’re multiple people, or hide our pasts deep in the recesses of black dogs, but we all have masks that we take off, and put on at our vanities. One has a horn nose, one is detailed in swirls of glitter, one has holes for the eyes and one doesn’t allow you to see. In a character who is ridden with memories that are both false and true, you can see yourself clearly because sometimes you’ll believe the lie that you tell yourself, and sometimes you just want to be a part of the story, insert yourself in the lesson, be the character.
This is the reason we read books; those mysterious crannies of the human mind. We have a past and a future that can be found in a sentence.
I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.