Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

Well, this was a novel that really struck a nerve. It’s about a man named Ken Kimble, a human chameleon who becomes whoever and whatever he needs to be given the situation. He’s also a bigamist. This is the story of his marriages to three different women.

First, there’s Birdie, whom he abandoned after eight years of marriage. She was the perfect wife and mother, until it all fell apart, then she cut Ken’s head out of every photograph and turned to wine. With her he was the adulterous minister, who demanded prim and proper almost Victorian perfection from his bride, he allowed her no close friends, chose her clothes, making sure they were unflattering and hid her figure, and gave her perfunctory sex entirely lacking in passion.

Next came Joan. They met at a pool party in Florida in 1969. She was a journalist and breast cancer survivor. At the time they met Ken was seeing another woman, Moira, and living the life of an aging hippie. He convinced Joan that the fact that she only had one breast, and wore a silicon replica in her bra, didn't matter, he loved her for herself. After their marriage, he became a successful real estate agent and commercial developer. But then secrets from Ken’s past catch up with him and it all starts to unravel and Joan finds a lump on her remaining breast.

The third Mrs. Kimble is Dinah, the perfect blonde trophy wife. He pays for expensive laser treatments to remove a disfiguring birthmark from her face, has a vasectomy without telling her even though he knows she wants another child, and buys her a new, sexy, slinky dress before each ritzy event they attend. She cares selflessly for Ken, and also in the hope of atoning for her secret affair with her tennis partner, after a heart attack lays him low, but, as always happens, the past never stops chasing Ken and he keeps running. He disappears just as the authorities as about to close in.

I've known too many human chameleons in my life, so reading a book like this always makes a deep impression on me. People who like to pretend to be someone they’re not should pursue acting as either a hobby or a profession not tamper with and destroy other people’s lives; I know first hand the damage they can do, so I had no sympathy for Mr. Kimble at all, only for those who had the misfortune to embrace and let him into their lives. They were all very different women, real human beings, with qualities good and bad, and I think the author did a great job creating and fleshing out these characters. I’ve read several of Ms. Haigh’s novels and I think after Baker Towers this one is the best so far.

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