Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Ken Kimble has had three wives, and each couldn’t be more different from the next. Birdie, his first wife, drowns her sorrows in her wine bottle as she struggles to keep things together for the two children Ken left behind. Joan, his second wife, is a lonely woman who has long given up on love when Ken walks into her life and changes all that. His third wife, Dinah, also the former baby-sitter of his children, is half his age and yet she is the woman who, ultimately, has the ability to see through Ken’s deceptive nature into the person he really is.

This is a book revolving around one central character, Ken Kimble, but in fact the book is not about Ken Kimble, not really. Instead, it is about the women who chose to marry him, and to a lesser extent, about the children that resulted from these marriages. It is about how this one man was different things to different people, about how three women were so blindsided by something about him that they chose not to see the man he really was.

I loved many things about Mrs. Kimble. Jennifer Haigh has a knack for creating characters that are painfully flawed, but you can’t help but root for. While I wanted to shake each of the three wives, Birdie is the one I was most frustrated with. Her inattention to her children made me want to reach into the book and slap her into understanding just how seriously she was damaging her kids. But at the same time, my heart broke for her – she was truly lost without Ken and just could not sober up enough to get her life back on track. She was seriously depressed and needed the kind of help people didn’t ask for in the 1960’s. Joan bothered me to a lesser extent, she was more together (and didn’t have children to impact negatively) but I didn’t understand how such an intelligent woman would fall for a man such as Ken Kimble. I liked Dinah, actually, but I feel that overall the reader gets to know her the least, so I didn’t connect with her as I did the other two wives. But generally speaking, Haigh wrote these three women in such a way that I believed their stories, I felt their pain, and I wanted to jump into the book and scream at them for getting involved with this guy in the first place.

I have to say that my heart absolutely broke for Ken Kimble’s children – Birdie’s two and Dinah’s one – as they were the ones most affected by Kimble’s deceitful ways. Birdie’s oldest, Charlie, especially snuck into my heart and I absolutely loved him. There were several moments throughout the novel where I felt tears come to my eyes as I literally experienced the pain Charlie was feeling. He just had such a tough time growing up with Birdie as his mother and Ken as his completely absent father that I couldn’t help but feel for him.

A few readers of Mrs. Kimble have commented that the major flaw in this novel is the fact that Haigh never explores or explains how Ken Kimble got to become the person he is in the novel. I think that is honestly missing the point. I don’t see this book as being about Ken much at all, really, it is about the people in his life who were changed, literally, because of being with him – and later, because of being without him. Yes, the reader learns very little about Ken Kimble as a person, but Ken Kimble is not really the focus of this novel, and the women and children whose lives are changed because of him we do learn a lot about, and I at least grew to truly care about each one of them.

I am fully convinced that Jennifer Haigh is one of the more talented authors I’ve read in recent years. Her ability to really get inside a character’s head, to examine and reexamine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of said character, is amazing. After reading Mrs. Kimble, I have now read two of her books (Faith being the first) and I can’t wait to read the rest. Highly recommended.

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21 thoughts on “Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

  1. After I read Faith and was blown away by it, I’ve been wanting to read more of her work. She certainly has a way of getting into your brain and making you think, HARD, about certain things. I’m going to look out for this one.

  2. I listened to this book years ago and absolutely loved it. Went on to read Baker Towers, which was also excellent. Not sure why I haven’t gotten to Faith yet. Haigh is definitely one talented author!

  3. I loved Mrs. Kimble – read it twice – and I agree completely with your review. I, too, wanted to shake Birdie. There is no more telling sign that you’re reading a great book than when the characters become so real to you that you react to them: getting mad at them, crying when something bad happens to them, being happy when something good happens, etc.

    I have to say that one of my all time favorite books is by Jennifer Haigh: The Condition. LOVED it. If you haven’t read it, it’s a must….

  4. I have seen this book in other places, and vaguely remembered it upon reading the title to this review. It does sound like a great read, and one that I would eventually like to get to. I have heard amazing things about Faith, and since I have that one sitting here, it will probably be my first Haigh, but I am really curious about this one, and would love to read it. It sounds like something that I could really get into, and I love that you were so connected to the female characters in general, and the children in particular. This sounds like a must read for me! Thanks for the excellent review, Heather!

  5. Ahh I have been so excited to read Faith which I’ll do soon for TLC and now I’m even more excited. Sounds like Haigh is an amazing author. I had this book on my wish list when it first came out but never got to reading it!

  6. I’m surprised that people thought that the background story on Ken was missing. I agree that they missed the point of the story. Ken’s back story is irrelevant. I also wanted to give Birdie a good hard shake to wake her up! Great review.

    This was my first time reading Haigh but its not going to be the last.

  7. I read this years ago and I felt kind of meh about it. That said, I can’t believe how much I loved Faith. I truly didn’t expect to but because it was Haigh I gave it a shot when I received a review copy last year. I also liked Baker Towers. Haven’t read The Condition yet but hope to. She’s a major author of our generation, that’s for sure.

  8. I’ve only read one of Haigh’s books (FAITH) but I agree that her writing is amazing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one for the tour! I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  9. I read Mrs. Kimble last year and found myself really involved with the characters. And I agree with you that the book is not about Ken Kimble; I think the author titled it as she did to point that out. And honestly, I’ve known a Ken Kimble in my time; people like that are often inexplicable.

    Another fan of Baker Towers, btw. Definitely worth reading.

  10. I read The Condition by Haigh and felt like there was just too much going on in it and so much of it was lessons she wanted me to learn. But this one definitely sounds like something I’d like without that preachiness I got from The Condition. In fact, I think I might even have this one on my shelves. Need to go check!

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