Synopses & Reviews
In her masterful first novel Mrs. Kimble,
Jennifer Haigh delivers the compelling story of three women who marry the same man -- an enigmatic opportunist named Ken Kimble.Birdie. 1961.
He was the choir director at a Southern Bible college. At practice she followed his hands with her eyes. Watching him, she thought of the Pietà: Mary weeping over her son's crucified body, his naked arms smooth as milk, his chest delicately ribbed like the underside of a flower. She imagined his shoulders bare beneath his shirt, his body long and white. One evening he approached her after practice.Joan. 1969.
She met him at a pool party in Florida. His lank dark hair hung to his shoulders; he wore faded jeans and a colorful cotton blouse. His eyes were a startling blue. No man had touched her in a year. He was engaged to someone else.Dinah. 1979
They met by accident in Washington, D.C. Their paths had intersected once before, when she was a teenager. "You're a beautiful girl," he'd told her, oblivious to the hideous scar on her face. He was old enough to be her father.
Kimble is revealed through the eyes of the women he seduces: his first wife, Birdie Bell, who struggles to hold herself together in the months following his desertion; his second wife, Joan Cohen, a lonely heiress shaken by personal tragedy, who sees in Kimble her last chance at happiness; and finally Dinah Whitacre, a beautiful but damaged woman half his age. Woven throughout is the story of Kimble's son, Charlie, whose life is forever affected by a father he barely remembers. Ken Kimble is a chameleon, a man able to become, at least for a while, all things to all women. To each of the three Mrs. Kimbles, he appears as a hero to whom powerful needs and nameless longings may be attached. Only later do they glimpse the truth about this elusive, unknowable man.
A captivating exploration of human love, marriage, and the illusions upon which it is founded, Mrs. Kimble presents a fascinating psychological portrait of a mesmerizing opportunist and the women who believe in him. Beautifully wrought, stunningly original, Jennifer Haigh's sparkling debut marks the arrival of a remarkable new talent.
"[A] luminous debut....The women are both weak and strong in their own ways, and the ending proves that Kimble may have done some good in spite of himself. A beautiful novel with memorable, vibrant characters that will have wide appeal." Kristine Huntley, Booklist (starred review)
In her masterful first novel Mrs. Kimble
, Jennifer Haigh delivers the riveting story of three women who marry the same man.
Ken Kimble is revealed through the eyes of the women he seduces: his first wife, Birdie, who struggles to hold herself together following his desertion; his second wife, Joan, a lonely heiress shaken by personal tragedy, who sees in Kimble her last chance at happiness; and finally Dinah, a beautiful but damaged woman half his age. Woven throughout is the story of Kimble's son, Charlie, whose life is forever affected by the father he barely remembers. Kimble is a chameleon, a man able to become, at least for a while, all things to all women -- a hero to whom powerful needs and nameless longings may be attached. Only later do they glimpse the truth about this enigmatic, unknowable man.
“Beautiful, devastating and complex.” —Chicago Tribune
The award-winning debut novel from Jennifer Haigh, author of BakerTowers, The Condition, and Faith, tells the story of Birdie, Joan,and Dinah, three women who marry the same charismatic, predatory, and enigmaticopportunist: Ken Kimble. Resonating with emotional intensity and narrativeinnovation reminiscent of Ann Patchetts Bel Canto, Barbara Kingsolvers The Poisonwood Bible, and Zora Neale Hurstons TheirEyes Were Watching God, Haighs Mrs. Kimble is a timeless story ofgrief, passion, heartache, deception, and the complex riddle of love.
About the Author
Jennifer Haigh is the author of the short story collection News From Heaven and four critically acclaimed novels: Faith, The Condition, Baker Towers and Mrs. Kimble. Her books have won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for work by a New England writer. Her short fiction has been published widely, in The Atlantic, Granta, The Best American Short Stories 2012, and many other publications. She lives in the Boston area.
An Interview with Jennifer Haigh How did producing a full-length novel compare to writing short stories? Was it a challenge to create three distinct but intertwining narratives for" Mrs. Kimble?
Short stories are to novels what dating is to a long marriage. A new story is very exciting; there's a wonderful sense of discovery that comes with inventing and exploring new characters. Because a novel takes so long to write, you're still plugging away at it long after the initial glow has faded. Novelists, like spouses, don't get to start from scratch when the novelty wears off. They're living with the choices they made days, months, years before.
Is there a part of you in any of Ken's wives, or in Ken himself?
I identify with all the characters in the book. More strongly with the wives, but with Kimble too. Some readers seem to disagree, but I never thought of him as a sociopath. He is in many ways a very ordinary person. He simply takes what is given to him.
The voice with which you narrate "Mrs. Kimble is very distinctive; the sentence structure is honed without being sparse, while your dialogue sounds casual but almost always carries an emotionally charged subtext. Did this voice evolve while you were a student in Iowa, or has it always been your vehicle for storytelling?
The narrative voice of "Mrs. Kimble is very much my voice; I think it comes through in all my work. I aim for precision in the sentences because that's the sort of writing I admire. I have a great respect for writers who are humble, whose language allows the reader to see the story but doesn't get in the way. Language is a window, and if the window is clean, you shouldn't be aware you're lookingthrough glass.
Do you consider "Mrs. Kimble to be a cautionary tale?
I didn't intend "Mrs. Kimble as a cautionary tale, just a story about life. Then again, life is instructive; we draw lessons from our own experiences and other peoples'.
Any plans for your next novel?
I am now deep into my next novel. It's like "Mrs. Kimble in that it involves a family and much of the story is set in the past. It's another intimate novel, showing the insides of people's lives. That's what interests me as a writer. Private stories, what people think and do and say when they think no one is watching.