Something Rising

Haven Kimmel

(Free Press)

appearing at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne, Monday 7:30 pm

E ven though Something Rising is set in a poor, remote, trashy and fictional corner of Indiana, Haven Kimmel's second novel delivers the reader into familiar territory. It is Bastard Out of Carolina country--poor but proud, where a young girl's steady and inquisitive nature is too clever and elegant for her hard-bitten surroundings. Her friends are undernourished, with pink rings around their eyes. Friends live in abandoned trailers. With loving details, Haven Kimmel transforms this landscape and a young girl's life into something if not noble, at least alluring and respectable.

Something Rising is a coming-of-age story. Cassie's biological and largely absent father is a charismatic but ultimately doomed pool hustler. At a young age, Cassie takes up billiards as both a curious passion and an escape.

The first half of the book is essentially organized as a selected collection of home movies, one capturing a languid morning when Cassie is 10 years old, and then another when she is 16 and budding into a pool hustling vixen. With the tone and characters established, the second half of the book is off to the races when she jumps at every opportunity to transcend her life. Like any coming-of-age the story is, by its nature, petty and personal. But Kimmel crafts a compelling voice for her main character, precisely mimicking the colloquial poetry of each stage of adolescence. In Cassie's late teens, the tone takes on a self-assured mix of mockery, wonderment and accidental insights. Cassie describes the woman at the gas station as "the skinny woman behind the counter who'd been there for years, smoking and looking like a chicken, a smoking chicken."

But Kimmel gives Cassie a voice that is perhaps too composed and controlled. It is hard and unwavering. Even though she is caught up in a tornado of personal problems and unanchored lives, Cassie is so steady that it dulls any edgy tension; she occasionally comes off as humorless as a kidney stone.

Something Rising is impeccably crafted. Like a game of professional nine-ball on ESPN 2, it is beautiful to watch, though at times that level of perfect control becomes a bore. PHIL BUSSE