Kimmel (The Used World, 2007, etc.) tells the story of an unbalanced Indiana college girl who may have been abused in childhood.
The novel’s first sentence, “I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed,” sets the tone. Trace Pennington, who goes to college under the name Ianthe Covington, drops a seminar on “the wounded woman.” It’s a good label for the burgeoning genre of novels like Kimmel’s about brilliant, beautiful, abused females. Trace is certainly the classic “wounded woman” heroine: She’s poor; she’s goth lovely with striking eyes; she keeps a dream journal; she lives in an abandoned farmhouse; and she’s first in her class. Oh, and she may be insane. Trace shares her sordid past in bits and pieces along with large helpings of psychological theorizing heavy on Freud, Jung and James Hillman but also ranging from Greek mythology to Carl Sagan. Occasionally Trace sneaks back to her hometown to visit her friend Candy, who lives in a broken-down trailer with her kids. Candy confides she’s been visited by aliens—the same way Trace may have been as a child; one night she was found wandering outside in the woods by her house. Trace sometimes explains her wandering as the aftermath of an encounter with aliens. She also claims to have been tortured by members of her mother’s church as part of an exorcism ceremony. The youngest of three children, Trace clearly considers her mother cruel and abusive, her father a broken saint. In her final year in college, Trace becomes passionately involved with Jacob, a psychology professor who marries her and molds her into a proper faculty wife. Although Trace isn’t sure whether Jacob, whose first wife disappeared, is a Pygmalion or a Bluebeard in her life, readers will suspect that he is just a pretentious jerk. After a stay in the hospital Trace begins to put the jigsaw pieces of her past into some kind of order. Or not.
Overwritten, lugubrious and self-consciously oblique.