Merrimon Book Reviews

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Iodine by Haven Kimmel
by Haven Kimmel

Strange detours on roads that might not exist

Through dream journals, brilliant Midwestern student Trace Pennington records the terrors and thoughts of a traumatized girl. A mixture of third person and first person narration tells the story of her classes in Special Topics in Archetypal Psychology and the remaining class on the Wounded Women she needs to complete a minor in Women's Studies. Interwoven within and against these narratives, the reader also hears stories of living in a shack without electricity, her dog Weeds as well as mythological dogs, her friendship with Candy and UFO abduction. Literary and psychological theory itself becomes an essential part of the plot as the psychosis itself is explored through academic concepts.

Clearly, IODINE is a book that will not appeal to all readers, especially readers looking for a more traditional narrative with a linear plot, clear characterization and a realistic tone. The plot is not distinguishable from the dream narratives. As a narrator, Trace is unreliable to the n-th decree. She readily admits lying and the reader questions the truth of every word by the end. Truth or outside events are not clearly distinguishable from the inner events of psychosis. The veracity of one school of psychology or literary theory is not guaranteed. At every turn the reader readjusts their interpretive framework. Feminism, Structuralism, Semiotics, Psychoanalytic, Deconstruction, Reader Response theory and even New Criticism enter the fray as avenues through which to enter the IODINE narrative and yet none provide the answer or unlock the text or the personal psychosis. Haven Kimmel's description of the Women's Studies class details a humorous and not so humorous look into the interaction between the personal and the intellectual within academia. Here there are no tags of realism as described by Todorov, or if there are, they quickly vanish as the narrative itself takes strange detours on roads that do not exist. The reader keeps looking for a route, a key with which to decipher the text into a logical construct --- but Haven Kimmal does not provide the easy answer.

IODINE is a poetic, cutting edge book that blazes a new, dark territory. All safeguards are gone in this text which takes academic notions, a classical prose narrative style and indeed the inner mind and turns them not just on the head but also removes the ground. IODINE is clearly not a book to choose if you want to relax into a more traditional reading experience. The publisher's description of the book provides an interpretive key perhaps to sort out the truth or plot, but in reading the book, even those words seem to be inadequate to describe the contents of IODINE. Are those words reliable or just one more interpretive framework to be discredited? For readers versed in the world of literary or psychological theory, Haven Kimmel's IODINE delights. The narrative twists and turns in plot, symbol, voice and just about every other narrative device in its portrait of Trace and her psychosis, provoking a desire for analysis while simultaneously destroying the sanctity or primacy of each route. IODINE is not an easy read that will appeal to a mass readership and yet, this reader loves the challenge and lack of safe interpretive formula. Its portrait of psychosis in character and in literature itself is ahead of its time and, as fiction, most certainly a fascinating challenge to the current state of literary theory.

Publisher: Free Press (August 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Review Courtesy of Amazon Vine
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