Second-novelist Kimmel (The Solace of Leaving Early, 2002, etc.) describes a young pool hustler’s coming of age in rural 1980s Indiana.
Cassandra (“Cassie”) Claiborne has a father bad enough to be hated but too memorable to be forgotten. Jimmy Claiborne met Cassie’s mother Laura in a diner in New Orleans, where Laura worked as a waitress. Genteel and quintessentially southern, Laura comes across as a tragicomic figure in the tradition of Blanche DuBois, forever pining for the childhood innocence she lost when she made her one great mistake: falling in love with Jimmy. Throwing over any number of other badly smitten suitors, she moved north with him to Indiana, where he almost immediately began abandoning her for weeks or months at a time as he pursued his passion for gambling in general and pool especially. Cassie and her older sister Belle grew up used to their father’s long absences and their mother’s rambling laments for the world that she left behind in New Orleans. Temperamentally different (Belle is intellectual and timid, Cassie forceful and ingenious in a tomboyish kind of way), the two sisters are united in their resentment of Jimmy, who eventually shacks up with his trailer-trash girlfriend and files for divorce after the fact. Cassie emulates her father in one respect only: pool, which she learned at an early age from watching him hustle. By the time she’s in her teens, Cassie is more than her father’s equal, and she uses her skill not only to support her abandoned mother and sister but (in a revenge match equal to anything in The Hustler) to repay Jimmy for all his years of neglect.
A bit too lugubrious for an elegy, a bit too lighthearted for a caper: still, a serviceable account of a young woman finding her own way in a twilit world of regret and loss.