Review

Mrs. Kimble

by Jennifer Haigh



One man, three very different wives, alcoholism, cancer, financial
improprieties and disgruntled children. If that doesn't sound like
the plot of any number of Lifetime Television movies, then I'm a
monkey's uncle. MRS. KIMBLE, the debut novel from Jennifer Haigh,
does indeed contain all of these plot points, but luckily is far
more than the sum of the rather sordid parts.

The aforementioned man, Ken Kimble, has a highly developed ability
to appeal to women. He marries his first wife, Birdie, in 1961 when
she is 18 and he, the choir director at her bible college, is 32.
Little more than a child in age and temperament, Birdie "found city
life unsettling; walking alone downtown, the sheer volume of faces
intimidated her. She rarely left the house." Eight years and two
children later, he dumps her and takes up with a young coed. The
first section of the book details Birdie's descent into alcoholism
and startling child neglect. Although we do get a few glimpses of
Ken in this first section, it is only in flashback --- the point of
view is entirely Birdie's. I found this an interesting choice on
Haigh's part, as it makes the reader predisposed to hate Ken. Not
that I'm taking the side of the serial philanderer, but some
insight into his behavior, from his perspective, would have made a
meatier and more complex novel.

The relationship between Ken and the coed doesn't play out
(surprise, surprise) and he moves on and in with Joan Cohen. Joan
is a Newsweek reporter --- a hard-driving career woman who
is truly ahead of her time, the early 1970's. Reeling from a
diagnosis of breast cancer and her father's death, Joan seriously
questions her life choices, the lack of family and children. This
vulnerability makes her easy prey for Ken who has by this time
morphed into a Jewish gardener with an ambition to sell real
estate. Haigh does a good job in making Joan believable, strong and
vulnerable at the same time. Joan, along with the help of an
elderly uncle, helps Ken launch his career. Their relationship
grows very quickly. Joan's mastectomy and the relatively
unenlightened views of breast cancer in the late 1960's could have
something to do with her willingness to dive into this
relationship. The marriage quickly turns rocky, especially as
Joan's cancer returns.

Fast forward a decade or so and we meet up again with Ken, this
time with his third wife, who is 25 years his junior. Dinah, the
third Mrs. Kimble, had at one time been a babysitter for Ken and
Birdie and a chance encounter leads to a relationship. Similar to
the other two Mrs. Kimbles, Dinah also has a gaping vulnerability,
a huge birthmark that covers most of her face. Ken, by this time
quite wealthy, helps her to have it removed and they soon marry.
Ken plays more of a role in this third section, although we still
don't get much of an idea of what is motivating this behavior. The
other characters, the wives and Ken's three children, are all
fleshed out and complex. Ken, on the other hand, is seen more as an
object of their well-deserved venom than as a real person. The
short chapters and rapid dialogue make MRS. KIMBLE a fast-paced and
largely enjoyable read, certainly several notches above your
average Lifetime movie.

Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran on January 22, 2011

Mrs. Kimble
by Jennifer Haigh

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 394 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060509406
  • ISBN-13: 9780060509408