In an "ACKNOWLEDGMENTS" section at the end of "Something Rising (Light and Swift)," author Haven Kimmel thanks the book clubs that read and discussed her first two books, the memoir "A Girl Named Zippy" and the novel "The Solace of Leaving Early." That made me flinch, because I don't want to think of Kimmel as a writer who has issues that you can dissect and parse over jug wine and crackers. The loveliness of "Something Rising" has nothing to do with talking points and everything to do with making the acquaintance of Cassiopeia Claiborne, a young woman growing up in Indiana, "the daughter of a great romance, if what was meant by romance was wreckage," and a woman who, as she puts it with typical directness, plays pool for money. Having a group discussion about Cassie would, as far as I'm concerned, be like arguing the merits of your new best friend. The greatest part of "Something Rising" is just the pleasure of her company.
While Cassie Claiborne was still a teenager her mother told her, "When I was growing up, women weren't made like you, so hard and strong." As a young girl she was known only for fights and failure at school. But at the age of 10 she discovers her calling when Jimmy, her good-for-nothing father, takes her to a poolroom for the first time: "Cassie took a deep breath. This smelled better than anything in her life, better than a Christmas tree, better than the raspberry bush at the edge of the house, tangled with honeysuckle, better than Jimmy's winter coat." From that day forward, she puts in three hours of practice a day on the pool table. This skill ultimately makes her the family breadwinner. It also allows her, in a marathon nine-ball match that Kimmel describes with dead-on accuracy, to punish and humiliate her father for deserting his family. And finally, pool is her ticket out of town. If this book does have a lesson to teach, it would be that supreme competence can breed not only confidence but self-awareness as well. Pool is the lens through which Cassie learns to understand life, and there's a great joy to be had just watching her confidence bloom in conjunction with her competence.
There are things to quibble with in this novel, notably Cassie's meet-cute with a hunky guy near the end of the story. And there's the matter of the title, which makes it sound like a book about biscuits. But the good things so outweigh the bad that you feel guilty about complaining. Kimmel's idea of a plot is not very linear. It's more like a net that hauls in great scenes. But while things may look superficially languid, this is one author who will not waste your time. She can sum up a minor character--hell, she can sum up ancestry--in a single sentence: "Barbara Thompson came from a long line of puppy-drowning rednecks who target-practiced with a twelve-gauge in the woods behind a trailer park filled with children." Not a lot happens in "Something Rising." Cassie grows up, her parents' marriage falls apart, family members grow old and die and in the end Cassie finds her footing in the world. But the way Kimmel tells it, that's enough. If this book were a pool game, Kimmel would run the table all night long.