Something Rising (Light and Swift)
“Is your name short for Cassandra?” Miss Sophie’s face was barely lined, but her teeth were not her own, and her earlobes were stretched like crepe paper.
“No, it’s Cassiopeia.”
“My goodness, what a blessing. What do you do in this world?”
Cassie cleared her throat. She had wandered into this living room as if onto the set of a comic opera already in progress. “I play pool for money.”
Miss Sophie barked out a laugh, and Thomas sat back in the rocker.
“You’re a what, a billiard shark?” Miss Sophie was so delighted she nearly bounced.
“I play American pool, not English billiards, and I’m not a shark. That would be a person who pretended not to be a good player, then stole the money of her opponent. I just announce myself, I say I’ve come to a place to play their best, and for money, and that person is called. Or I wait for him.”
“I’ll be damned,” Sophie said, shaking her head.
“And I’m the person in my own town other hustlers would come to beat, except that it doesn’t happen anymore. There are very few of us left.”
“And do they, would they beat you?”
“No,” Cassie said. “No, they wouldn’t.”
Miss Sophie waved her hand in front of her face. “My interest in this is so sudden it feels lewd. Well, Thomas,” she said, smiling at him, “it looks to me as if you’ve met your match. The cosmic wheel and all that. Now, go take a walk or visit the library, have an impromptu prayer meeting, whatever young people do these days. I’ll make some dinner.”
You (and Miss Sophie) have just met Cassie Claiborne, the most “normal” of the idiosyncratic characters in Haven Kimmel’s hardscrabble coming-of-age novel Something Rising (Light and Swift). Cassie and her booksmart but fragile sister Belle have grown up in small town Indiana with little supervision from their unreliable, pool-hustling dad (who happens to have another wife) and their distant, chain-smoking mom (who regrets leaving New Orleans for what turned out not to be love). Cassie learns to play pool first as a means to her dad’s attention and then as a means to his destruction, simultaneously taking pride in her work and grappling with the futility of other options for herself, her sister, and her friends.
This is ultimately a book about family—good, bad, and ugly. I was drawn in by the angular characterization, fascinated by how a cast of characters with strikingly odd personality traits results in a realistic, familiar world. I have little in common with Cassie or her friends, yet I was able to relate to her in the form of her commitment to family and her search for meaning. My interest drifted a few times, particularly scenes where I had no common experience, and the conclusion seemed suddenly and improbably tidy. But other scenes, like the conversation excerpted above from a scene late in the book, are sparkling and funny and endearing. Readers who like coming of age stories and prefer female protagonists who defy American stereotypes will find something to enjoy here.
This is the first of Kimmel’s books I’ve read. I learned of her work at last year’s Festival of Faith and Writing, where she presented about her memoir, A Girl Named Zippy. She is also the author of three other novels, the most recent of which, Iodine, is a psychological thriller that I understand departs significantly from the style of her previous books.
Have you read her? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel or any of her books.