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Mrs. Kimble: A Novel Hardcover – February 18, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (February 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060509392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060509392
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,193,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Sometimes a book can be utterly full of holes and you still can't put it down. In Mrs. Kimble, first-time novelist Jennifer Haigh follows the marital career of Ken Kimble, opportunist, serial husband, and all around schmuck. The first section, set in Virginia in the 1960s, revolves around alcoholic first wife Birdie. As we enter the story, Kimble has already left her alone with two small children she is ill equipped to raise on her own. Kimble's absence in this section sets the tone for the book, which is not so much about Kimble himself as it is about the women he dupes over the years. Next up is Joan, a Newsweek reporter recovering from a mastectomy at her late father's home in Florida. A wealthy, confident woman left unsteady by breast cancer, she falls for Kimble, who now turns up in a hippie-ish incarnation. In the final section, Kimble weds Dinah, who had been his children's babysitter back in Virginia. Their marriage unravels as, at the end of the book, Kimble's secrets are revealed one by one. Unfortunately, the central secret of the book is never laid bare: how did the man get to be such a jerk? Other problems are never dealt with, either: we never believe a whip-smart woman like Joan could be so transparently snow-jobbed. We never understand why Dinah stays with an aging crook. Nevertheless, Mrs. Kimble is still engrossing. Haigh is so gifted at creating vivid scenes and strong characters, we find ourselves surrendering our disbelief despite our better judgment. This isn't the terrific book it might have been, but it's still a superior read. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

The three women who successively marry Ken Kimble all believe they've found the perfect partner, and all are proven wrong in Haigh's uneven debut. Birdie is a student at a Southern Bible college in the early 1960s when she meets Kimble, then a handsome young choir director; they marry less than a year later, a day before she turns 19. After seven unfaithful years of marriage, Ken walks out on Birdie and their two young children, leaving the hard-drinking Birdie impoverished. Ken next surfaces in Florida in 1969, engaged to a formerly ambitious coed who dropped out of college to travel the country with him. He summarily dumps her to court 39-year-old Joan Cohen, a strong-willed Newsweek reporter who is recovering from breast cancer surgery. He marries her (after falsely telling her that he's Jewish) and joins her rich uncle in his real estate business. A few years and one miscarriage later, the marriage has quietly soured, and a few years after that Joan has a recurrence of cancer and dies. Ken's third wife is the much-younger Dinah, who used to be his children's baby-sitter. This marriage survives Ken's rise to prominence in Washington, D.C., as the founder of a successful charity. Haigh's women are believable, if a touch cliched, but Ken is a cipher. Haigh leaves us guessing about his motivations, and his irresistible appeal to these women-especially the tough-minded Joan-also remains murky. The novel has sharply incisive passages, but Haigh's thin characterizations don't quite live up to the promise of the clever, intricate premise.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

It was beautifully written with wonderful character development.
The way the author tied up the story at the end was neither contrived nor forced (as it easily could have been) ---it was very well done.
It is one of these books that you want to know what happens next.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette Klein on May 19, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ken Kimble is a chilling and complex creation masterfully drawn by first-time author Jennifer Haigh. He is what some would call a "serial husband," a man who has no trouble attracting women and marrying them before they get to know him very well. This deceptive and deeply unlikeable man is revealed in bits and pieces by the three women he marries.

The first Mrs. Kimble is Birdie, a woman of the 50's who falls apart when he leaves her for a young girl. She becomes a wino and neglects her two children, Charlie and Jody. The second Mrs. Kimble is Joan, a bright and savvy career woman who is devastated when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mansion, her obvious wealth, and her family connections are enticing to the highly duplicitous Ken Kimble. The third Mrs. Kimble is the physically damaged Dinah, a woman half his age who bears him a son, Brendan, whom he neglects and serves merely as a trophy wife for him to trot out when needed.

Throughout the three marriages, we are privvy to the life of firstborn son Charlie and the effects the father he barely remembers have on him. This empathetic character grows into manhood carrying the baggage of his youth, yet becomes a port in the storm to someone who needs shelter as much as he does.

The three Mrs. Kimbles give the reader a look into traditional and non-traditional family values as well as answering a lot of questions about why women marry and why they make the choices they do. The novel is totally engrossing and packs a powerful message on the vulnerability of women.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock on October 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Mrs. Kimble" is one of the more engrossing books I've read in a while. Jennifer Haigh distinctly creates the three different worlds that Ken Kimble enters, and ties them together in an ending that is satisfying without being overly sentimental. I would compare Haigh to Sue Miller, another writer who skillfully digs beneath everyday relationships.

There are hints that Ken Kimble is someone obsessed with the surface of things, never able to fully engage in the messiness of life. Ironically, his legacy is one of messiness: his wives, children, and business affairs are a tangled web of his deceit. There is bitter frustration for the reader in seeing how easily he can pull some of these things off. Sadly, there are a lot of Ken Kimbles out there. Readers may be compelled to draw on their own experiences with such sociopaths.

Highly recommended... I picked this for my book club and think it will garner good discussion.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A. Vernick on April 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It turns out you can judge a book by its cover. I was drawn to this book because of its simple, intriguing cover design and I was not disappointed once.
This is an incredible first novel. The writing is assured and occasionally beautiful. Charlie Kimble, the elusive Ken Kimble's son, is rendered stunningly, from childhood through adulthood. There are narrative gaps--the story jumps ahead by years, sometimes decades, but it is all carried off seamlessly. The three Mrs. Kimbles are fully and convincingly developed. The fact that Ken Kimble is not does not bother me in the least, as we see him through the eyes of the wives and child who never fully know him.
I was most impressed by the deeply satisfying ending. I'm looking forward to Ms. Haigh's next effort (no matter what the cover looks like).
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a good debut novel. The concept is intriguing - a chameleon-like man who changes identities to match the women he marries, preys upon their weaknesses, and changes their lives. The portrays of the women were fascinating, well-drawn and sympathetic - I really rooted for Birdie in the beginning, hoping she would recover from Ken and move on, and then felt increasingly sad and frustrated when it became clear she would not recover. Joan, the second wife, became ill and never had the chance to recover, and finally Dinah, the third wife, made the triumphant recovery. The weakness of the book was Ken - why on earth were these women so lovestruck with a man who was a bad lover, no companion, had horrible table manners, uninteresting, a liar...Birdie I could understand, but Joan's obsession just didn't quite work, and Dinah's just seemed unbelievable - she was almost contemptuous of him throughout the marriage, but she stayed, and stayed, and stayed. And finally, I felt the ending was weak because it made him too one-dimensionally evil - even destroying his business success. He would have been more interesting had he been shown as more of a person and less of a caricature.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
This novel was immediately engrossing. I was fascinated with this Ken Kimble & the three women he seduced, wed, & betrayed. This novel is all the more mesmerizing b/c we never hear Ken's side of the story. We remain in these women's shoes just watching it all unfold. Haigh captures the essence of women & how we think within these pages. These three women are all very different, yet all fall prey to this charismatic, elusive man.

It's simply fascinating watching it all unfold. You tend to forget it's fiction!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The story of three women who marry an elusive con man. Ken Kimble is a human amoeba capable of morphing into whatever shape pleases the woman he wants. The novelist's focus is on the three very different women who are his victims, and each portrayal is subtle and all too real. The skill with which the women are drawn is amazing in so young a writer, as is her perceptive and never sentimental picture of Kimble's three children. The dialogue is as real as life. One could only wish for a bit more depth in the description of the women's background and character. As for Kimble, such a person could never be made understandable--revinvention of himself to suit the moment is his very nature.
A highly original work from a writer who promises much.
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More About the Author

Jennifer Haigh is the author of four critically-acclaimed novels: FAITH, THE CONDITION, BAKER TOWERS and MRS. KIMBLE. Her books have won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction and the PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author, and have been published in sixteen languages. Haigh's short stories have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares, One Story, The Saturday Evening Post and many other places, including THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2012. Her latest book, the short story collection NEWS FROM HEAVEN, returns to the coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, the setting of her second book, BAKER TOWERS. Winner of the Massachusetts Book Award and the 2014 PEN/New England Award, NEWS FROM HEAVEN is now available in paperback.

Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, Jennifer now lives in Boston.

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