Langston Braverman walked out on her PhD oral exams, and came home to small town Indiana to recover from that which ails her. She is so wrapped up in her own pain that she has no energy left to pay attention to what is going on around her, and there’s a lot going on. Her childhood friend Alice has died, leaving two young children behind, and Langston is so self-absorbed that she isn’t even the least bit interested in how her friend died, doesn’t want to attend the funeral, just wants to hide in her parents’ attic and try to figure out what to do with her life.
While Langston’s disconnection with her town, her belief that the residents are somehow crass and ugly and beneath her could have been off-putting, and sometimes were, I still found much to like in her character. She recognizes the beauty around her, sometimes belatedly, but at least she is able to find it when it presents itself to her.
The sliding window of the drive-thru opened, and the same frumpy, dispirited, and vaguely rude middle-aged woman they saw every day stuck her head out.
Langston smiled at her, but collapsed inwardly; she lived among savages. “I’d like a chocolate dip cone, a vanilla cup with multicolored sprinkles, and an ice-cream sandwich. Thank you.”
The woman closed the door without a word.
Surly Woman slid back the window, and handed Langston the ice cream in the order she’s requested it, and then just before she took Langston’s money, gave her an extra cup with a swirl of vanilla ice cream and half a dog biscuit stuck in the top. Langston’s eyes filled with tears, and she had to turn her head to hide it from the girls. What is wrong with me? she thought. I’ve become so emotionally labile. Before Langston could say anything to the woman, she’d taken the money and gone to get change. The girls immediately began to argue about who got to hold the cup for Germane, and when the woman came back Langston was only able to get out, “Thank you so much for that unexpected kindn–” before the window closed with a “Yep”.
Langston has a tendency to wallow, but when the time comes and she needs to step up and become a full-fledged member of her community, she does so with compassion and grace.
Amos Townsend is a local minister in town, and a friend of Langston’s mother. He is in the midst of a profound crisis of faith, and is trying to figure out how his words and actions affect his congregation. He struggles over his weekly sermons, struggles to connect with his congregation, most especially the couples he councils.
“Every week when Amos saw them he couldn’t help but wonder if there was ever a conversation about anything in Steve and Lydia’s household, apart from grocery lists and car maintenance. They all seemed so resigned and complacent; so blank. They were curious about nothing, they exhibited no restlessness, they seemed to want nothing more than they had. The slightest reference, on Amos’s part, to an inner life, seemed to bounce off their collective surface like a foreign language, and finally, Amos was forced to consider that perhaps there was simply no one there. They were human, yes, and they bore immortal souls. All God’s creatures. But Amos didn’t understand them any more than he understood bison or oak trees.”
I loved Amos…he is a kind, wonderful, interested, curious, flawed man. I especially liked the parts where he ruminates over his sermons, trying to connect to his congregation, trying to show them his inner soul, trying to reach them.
“Why?” he wanted to ask his congregants. “Why does this happen to us? Because we have abandoned an infinite number and variety of pure possibilities, and perhaps they live alongside the choices we did make, immortalized in the cosmic memory. Perhaps there are unknown lives walking alongside ours, those paths we didn’t take, and we reach for them, we ache for them, and don’t know why. We have, none of us, lived our lives as we ought to have, and maybe that’s a good, working definition of sin. God doesn’t care, the angels don’t care, no one is mad at us for our failure. But what agony, to know our better selves, the life we might have lived is there, just out of reach!”
Langston and Amos are thrust together by Alice’s daughters, two young girls who have re-named themselves Immaculata and Epiphany, and who speak with the Virgin Mary daily. Immaculata and Epiphany witnessed the death of their mother, and their scars are deep.
I loved this book. I loved how perfectly matched Langston and Amos were for each other, though of course, neither of them sees it. They are both people of ideas, reluctantly forced into the harsh reality of people and pain. I loved Langston’s mother, a fiercely intelligent and caring woman who has secrets of her own. Secrets that could help mend a lot of Langston’s pain, if only she were open to seeing them.
The Solace of Leaving Early is Haven Kimmel’s first novel. Highly recommended.