The Fragrant Ones by A. R. Kimber

The Fragrant Ones

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A debut novel in which two young women separated by centuries seek personal redemption.

Kimber’s novel opens with idealistic but experience-hardened Jennifer attending the bedside of Jeb, the provocative avant-garde artist who’s been a kind of cult-messiah figure to her; now, Jeb is dying of AIDS. Jeb has accumulated many “disciples” in a life devoted as much to drinks and debauchery as to his art, and Jennifer finds herself in uneasy competition mainly with steely Vina, Jeb’s manager and representative. Both women come from sketchy, fragmented pasts, and both have present-day treasures: For Vina, it’s her young son, Kevin, and for Jennifer, it’s her late mother’s copy of The Fragrant Ones by R.F. Friedlander, inscribed with a verse from the Gospel of Mark: “I tell you the truth…wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” In the narrative’s alternating chapters, readers get the story of this enigmatic “she”—a Jewish woman in the first century named Reumah, divorced by her husband and degraded into prostitution, then befriended by a charismatic rabbi who meets her at a well and fills her imagination with hope. After thus giving readers a New Testament reference point, Kimber goes on to skillfully weave a multilayered story, half in Jeb’s present-day world of art galleries, wine, and drugs and half in the New Testament world of Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Nicodemus. The plotlines are united both in their common examination of the nature of messiah-hood and in their intricate, satisfying portrayal of young women facing tough choices in an unsentimental world. “One religion was basically the same as any other,” Jennifer thinks. “Try hard. Worship something good and be a good person, whatever that means to you.” But the story’s grappling with the nature of faith—ranging from the savage cruelties inflicted on Reumah to the lies of convenience told by Jennifer—is far more complex than such easy formulas would indicate.

An evocative depiction of the natures of womanhood and discipleship.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1494810245
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2014