Haven Kimmel,
(Free Press, 2008)

Evident immediately in Iodine is the persistent, frigid cold of the region that permeates this story, a bone-chilling look from the inside out into a brilliant girl in the depths of a confusing psychosis, who is holding a terrible and forgotten family secret that is as horrifying as it is elusive.

The plot wanders aimlessly through the first half of the book. For the most part, we remain tangled in Trace Pennington's stream of consciousness, her fantasies, her delusions, her memories. It is maddeningly impossible to decipher what are true memories and what is delusion, and she probably doesn't know herself, although she doesn't realize it. Her peculiarity is evident from the jolting first sentence of chapter one, through her unanticipated realization of a family tragedy at the conclusion.

Throughout the second half of the book, Trace recreates herself as Ianthe Covington, the name of a baby she discovered on a marker in a cemetery. With her new identity, she begins living with her professor, who slowly begins to make her over into his ideal. He changes her clothes, her makeup, her mind. She becomes fixated on what seems to be a mystery surrounding the disappearance of his wife, and she becomes obsessed with finding an answer, which eventually triggers her undoing.

Both the protagonist and the novel itself were more than a little odd. Author Haven Kimmel was a little over my head here, yet I was strangely compelled to keep reading out of a warped sense of voyeurism, as the look inside this girl's mind was hypnotizing. Details of her questionable childhood and resultant confusion are slowly parceled out, and this process was either intriguing or agonizing, I could never decide which. Yet, in the end, we are still left wondering what in her memory is true, and what is a carefully constructed history based upon the products of psychosis. We will never know.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

26 March 2011

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