Tuesday, September 30, 2008

She Got Up Off the Couch

I reviewed Haven Kimmel's first book, A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana here. Kimmel's second book of essays about her childhood, She Got Up Off the Couch: and Other Heroic Stories from Mooreland, Indiana, is a little more poignant, only slightly less hilarious, and even more heartwarming.

I love this author's style. She writes as well-crafted an essay as I've ever read, though she leaves the endings with more ambiguity than, say, a James Herriot chapter or an O. Henry story (both writers I admire for their tightly constructed tales). The ambiguity is perfect for her stories, however; although many of them have painful endings, she has a way of infusing them with beauty, acceptance and hilarity. Her childhood had many sadly disturbing elements in it, yet she seemingly was gifted with a thick skin that didn't allow the hurtful to penetrate and taint. There is no bitterness--only a brilliance at outlining the poignancy in a situation with humor.

From a Christian perspective, this is not a faith-filled memoir. Although the author's mother is a Quaker, her father is agnostic and as a child, the author adopted his views. One of the most hilarious chapters in the book is about being forced to go to a church camp, which reminded me of the Baptist one I attended in the same era, and how she refuses to answer the altar calls, so she's not allowed to go to the dance on the last night. (That's where the similarities ended; the big Baptist finale was the week's only altar call, not a dance. Of course not!)

All through both books, however, I found myself wondering whether the author, as an adult, had come to faith. There is, in the tone, a gentle gratefulness and a faith in something more than humanity, I thought, and a way of looking at life that feeds the soul. It turns out that Haven Kimmel did return to her mother's Quaker faith, attending a Quaker seminary to study "the big questions" she faced as a poet. I don't think we can claim her as orthodox or traditional, but I think it's nice to know where she's coming from as one enjoys her books. (Hmmm, I wonder what Haven Kimmel and Josephine Moffatt Benton, the Quaker woman who wrote The Pace of a Hen, would think of one another? There is a great Quaker sensibility to them both.)

Do. Enjoy them. Especially--if your library has them--the audiobooks, read perfectly by the author.

I can't wait to read some of her fictional titles.


Jill said...

Oh goodness... I've gotten "The Prize Winner" and now I just have to have this book too! Makes me wish we lived in Kenosha and I could just peruse your library!!
Have you ever read Phillip Gulley? He's one of my favorites! His fiction and non-fiction are classic laugh out loud tales.

Jill said...

Incidentally, Philip Gulley is also a Quaker and lives in Indiana.

At A Hen's Pace said...


I just looked him up and he does sound good! A little like Jan Karon's Mitford series, maybe?

I'll see if my library has him in audio. (--The only way I'm getting any reading in lately!)



Amy said...

okay, you've convinced me to search amazon.com . . . like I have time to read!!! LOL


At A Hen's Pace said...


Audio books, busy lady, audio books...!



MomCO3 said...

I heard Haven Kimmel speak at a conference last spring and was disappointed to hear how bitter she was in person. Funny, yes, but with an caustic edge to her humor.