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.