Monday, December 09, 2013
Reviewed by OFW editor:
Published: March 29, 2014
From the Cover:
From her earliest years, Trace turned away from her abusive mother toward her loving father. Within the twisty logic of abuse, her desperate love for him took on a romantic cast that persists to this day, though she's had no contact with her family since she ran away from home years ago. Alone but for her beloved dog, she's eked out an impoverished but functional existence, living in an abandoned house, putting herself through college, and astonishing her teachers with her genius and erudition. What they don't know is that she leads a double life: thanks to forged documents, at school she is Ianthe Covington, a young woman with no past.
Trace's singular life is upended when she and her literature professor fall in love. She tells him nothing about her life, and as it becomes apparent that he has his own dark secrets, she's forced to face herself and her past. After recovering a horrific, long-suppressed memory, Trace finally copes with the fallout from her brutal, bizarre childhood.
This book blew me away. The plot wasn’t extremely unique, and the characters weren’t mind-bending, but the style and voice held me from the first lines:
I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed.
Yes, I was also like "WTF?"
Trace Pennington is Ianthe Covington. Both women are brilliant and insane, in that wonderfully eccentric way we’d all secretly like to lose our mind. Trace is escaping her nightmare childhood, and while playing the role of Ianthe, she falls in love with her professor, Jacob Matthias. However, her carefully woven armor which has kept her safe from her demons to that point slowly begins to unravel.
The reader now has to follow Trace-Ianthe through the dark alleyways of her mind, journeying to the past and back to the present as both timelines begin to weave together, until a single thread sends it all crumbling down.
If you read this book hoping for an obvious plot and a relatable character, you’ll fail to appreciate the layers Kimmel carefully stitched together. It’s not about what is real and what is all in Trace's head. It’s not even about what really happened to her as a child. You see every dream, every fantasy, every strange occurrence and visitor in Trace’s life actually happened. How is that possible? Because Trace believes all of it. This is how you have to read this book. And can I say, extra points for including Bluebeard’s closet in this tale. You could try to remove the past from the present, the reality from the fiction, but you won’t be able to do this if you immerse yourself in the story, because it is Trace's story, and her perceptions and her experiences are what make it all make sense in the end.
Have I put you off? That’s not my intention. Trust me when I say that as soon as you slip into the world Kimmel created, you’ll have no difficulty seeing and believing what Trace does.
The other reason I loved this book is that Trace is the ultimate unreliable narrator. You suspect this all along, but the brilliant part is that you
to believe she isn’t. You truly want to believe everything she writes and experiences. And it is important to question her reality, because you would hate her otherwise. But don’t give it too much thought initially. You see, the great fun in this novel is piecing together the connections made her Trace’s mind. The author uses psychoanalytical theory, (Freud and Jung, my favorites) and literary references which she combines with a million other tiny clues in a complex narrative to make it all make sense on the very last paragraph on the final page.
Now, if someone had handed this to me and said “Oh here, this is a novel-length character study that is fascinating.” I’d be all “No thanks. I’ll pass.” But I discovered “Iodine” in the bargain bin of my local Chapters store. The cover intrigued me, the price was $2, and I had nothing to lose by going with my gut and picking a book simply because I liked the cover art. And I was greatly rewarded. I’d have paid the full $30 retail for this book in a heartbeat had I known what was hidden in the pages. After I’d read this the first time, I read it again, to try to fully understand how the author did what she did. I’m willing to bet if I read it again and again, I’d keep finding new elements that would make the story richer and the characters deeper each time.
This novel is for someone who likes to be challenged. It’s definitely not an escapist read for most. The author appeals to that inner sicko in all of us, tests your intelligence a bit to push the limits of your commitment to the story, then you’re fully immersed in Trace-Ianthe’s world. The scholarly bits seem pretentious at first, but in the middle of the book, the various characters, flashbacks, symbols and quotes reveal themselves as foreshadowing for a bigger picture.
Now some describe this novel as a story of mental illness, but it really is not. Trace’s problems are far too minor for what she endured, so the telling isn’t really accurate. The real theme is that you can’t escape your past. You cannot run away from who you truly are inside. A new identity, knowledge and a new life will only change the surface things. The things that made you who you are may be gone, but they’ve forever left their mark.
This has made me eager to read more of Kimmell's work. The complexity of both her characters and her writing style fascinate me. No, “Iodine” is not for everyone, but I strongly recommend it for writers, if only to see that sometimes it pays to step outside the box.
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