Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Used World by Haven Kimmel

Summary: "It was mid-December in Jonah, Indiana, a place where Fate can be decided by the weather, and a storm was gathering overhead." So Haven Kimmel, bestselling author of A Girl Named Zippy, prepares us to enter The Used World -- a world where big hearts are frequently broken and sometimes repaired; where the newfangled and the old-fashioned battle it out in daily encounters both large and small; where wondrous things unfold just beneath the surface of everyday life; and where the weather is certainly biblical and might just be prophetic.

Hazel Hunnicutt's Used World Emporium is a sprawling antique store that is "the station at the end of the line for objects that sometimes appeared tricked into visiting there." Hazel, the proprietor, is in her sixties, and it's a toss-up as to whether she's more attached to her mother or her cats. She's also increasingly attached to her two employees: Claudia Modjeski -- freakishly tall, forty-odd years old -- who might finally be undone by the extreme loneliness that's dogged her all of her life; and Rebekah Shook, pushing thirty, still living in her fervently religious father's home, and carrying the child of the man who recently broke her heart. The three women struggle -- separately and together, through relationships, religion, and work -- to find their place in this world. And it turns out that they are bound to each other not only by the past but also by the future, as not one but two babies enter their lives, turning their formerly used world brand-new again.

My Review: This is a novel that is difficult to review without giving away too much of the plot. This story centers around three woman at various stages in their lives, with religion playing a large role in the plot. Rebekah has left the Pentecostal cult-like church she was raised in, and in the process of finding herself ends up unwed, pregnant and homeless. Claudia is a freakishly tall and lonely woman who also no longer believes in the religion she was brought up with. She is in the process of finding her true identity as well. Hazel is the owner of the little shop both the previously mentioned women work in. She is eccentric with some mild psychic abilities and a strong belief in astrology. Although she comes across as a strong character, she is bogged down with guilt and must find a way to let the past go.

This novel started very slow for me. The author attended seminary school, so it should not come as no surprise that she adds religion into the book, which was fine by me as I usually find the religious views of others somewhat interesting. However the first 50 pages or so of this novel read almost like a sermon. I felt that the author was trying too hard to fit religion into the book and thus was piling it into spots where it did not neatly fit.

I was also disappointed that the author thought she needed to put so many similarities into the characters. All were trying to find their footing in the world. All has issues with their relationship with their fathers. All had similar lifestyle preferences, which I can not discuss further without giving away too much of the plot. Considering this was set in a small town, I felt that this abundance of similarities lend to the story being somewhat unbelievable.

All that being said, I did find the novel to contain some very thought-provoking moments. One of my favorite scenes has Hazel speaking to Claudia about her deceased mother. Hazel says to Claudia "You didn't know everything about your mother. You only know yourself in relation to her... You're just telling a story called Ludie. You've made up a character who stands in a spot and fulfills certain needs and is rounded by your perfect imagination of her." It really made me think about how we all just make up the characters in our lives around who they are in relationship to us and also of the story we tell others about ourselves.

The redeeming of this book came in the last 50 pages. This is the point where almost all the threads were tied together in an unexpected twist (with the exception of one of Hazel's visions that I still can't figure out where it ties in). I could not put the book down when I arrived at this point and I was left wishing for more when the book came to a close. I am still thinking about the characters in this novel and have come away really enjoying them.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars (most of it at a 3 but the end was a 4+), will probably recommend this book to a few people and will definitely be thinking about it in the future.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A leisurely float trip with some exciting rapids at the end to give you something to talk about and remember.

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