This short memoir by Haven Kimmel is subtitled, “Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana.” I think I was expecting that the author herself was small. (Well, smaller than most children, I guess.) In fact, the memoir is about growing up in a very, very small town: Mooreland is, and has been for decades, a town of 300 people.
Kimmel’s memories are told in a witty, episodic style. Each chapter (“Blood of the Lamb,” “The Kindness of Strangers,” “Diner,”) tells a short story about an incident in her childhood — most of them could be short stories, in a magazine like Redbook or Real Simple — and most are only a few pages long. This gives the memoir a fragmented feel, though of course there are threads running through it that give it some coherence: family dynamics, household animals, Kimmel’s troubled relationship with organized religion.
The memoir is basically told from a child’s-eye view. There’s little or no analysis from Kimmel’s adult perspective, saying, for instance, that she knows now what was going on with her mother, or that the shape of her brother’s defiance made her own trajectory different. It’s just memories: things are the way they are, and because children have an odd way of blowing certain events out of proportion and normalizing others, that’s the way this memoir looks.
But there’s not much darkness in this book. There’s the barest hint here and there of a lecherous teacher, a divorcing couple, a mother who’s still seeking her path — but Kimmel’s short chapters and snappy style gloss over those events quickly. The one chapter that faces an emotional epiphany head-on (“Reading List”) spends less than a page on it. It made things feel choppy, and it made me feel that she was protecting herself from being known.
I think my main complaint wasn’t that it wasn’t dark enough — it’s fine to be funny and light — but just that it wasn’t universal enough. Tell me about your unique experiences in a tiny town, but make it so that I can understand them, even though I grew up where my elementary school had more people than your whole village. (Anne Lamott does this incredibly well, by the way.) I don’t want Kimmel to be more like me. I just want a way in to seeing what it’s like, being her.