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The Solace of Leaving Early
By Haven Kimmel
Doubleday, 2002
Hardcover, $23.95 (258 pages)
ISBN: 0-385-49983-3
 
 
 

Haven Kimmel's much acclaimed The Solace of Leaving Early is a brilliant, accessible, and compassionate novel. 

Langston Braverman deftly avoided all the factions in her graduate program until, in a weak moment, she enthusiastically raised her hand in a seminar on John Dunne. Months later, unwilling to give her former lover and professor the satisfaction of taking credit for her brilliance, she walks out of her oral exams for her Ph.D.. 

Deciding the only activity she's been educated for is writing, she moves back into her childhood room in the attic of her parent's home with her dog Germane and her broken heart. 

Everyone in her hometown, including her mother, keeps mentioning the death of her childhood friend, Alice. Langston, too busy with her own crisis, avoids anyone who might give her the details or explain why Alice's husband can't take care of their two young daughters. 

AnnaLee, hoping to help her daughter out of her angst, encourages Langston to spend some time at her church and with her minister, Amos Townsend.  AnnaLee and Amos share an intellectual bond, questioning natures, and love of the same books. 

Unbeknownst to his congregation and neighbors, Amos is obsessed with Alice's death, whether or not he could have stopped it, and the fate of her young daughters. 

Amos, partially in penance for his role in their mother's death, visits Alice's daughters (who have renamed themselves Immaculata and Epiphany) and mother daily at their grandmother's house as does AnnaLee. 

In her practical way, AnnaLee sets up a schedule for the children which includes afternoon lessons from her daughter. Langston, taking her cue from Jane Austen's novels, sees herself as a nanny who has come down in the world. 

Langston and Amos develop an adversarial relationship in their attempts to protect the children. The girl's grandmother, with the wisdom of age, has named Langston and Amos co-guardians in the event of her death, yoking the two of them together and forcing them to recognize what's best for the children. 

Haven Kimmel has created a richly textured, deeply felt, and wry debut novel. 

The author of the bestselling memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel studied English and creative writing at Ball State University and North Carolina University. She also attended seminary at the Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

Pam Kingsbury
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