Mrs Kimble by Jennifer Haigh won the 2003 PEN/Hemingway prize for first novel.
Mrs Kimble is about 3 women who are all at one time or another married to Ken Kimble.
The first Mrs Kimble is Birdie. She has 2 children with Ken, Charlie and Jody. Jody is still in diapers when Ken leaves Birdie, and Charlie does his best to get by, but he's just a little boy unequipped to deal with a mother who cannot come to grips with her husband's betrayal.
Joan is the second Mrs Kimble. She's definitely a step up the social ladder from Birdie, but it's hard to understand her interest in Ken since everyone else she knows is far more polished. However, through his marriage to Joan, Ken finds his groove in the selling of real estate. The more successful he becomes, the more abandoned Joan feels.
The third Mrs Kimble is Dinah. She used to babysit for Charlie and Jody when they were children and Ken was still married to Birdie. Dinah has no illusions about who and what she is, but she has all kinds of illusions about Ken. None of them are left intact by the time Dinah is close to her 40th birthday and Ken is 65.
There is no mystery about what happens to Ken since his fate is discussed in the first few pages of this book. But the influence he's had on 3 very different women and the children he's had with them defines clearly who Ken Kimble was.
The answers about why these women were attracted to Ken Kimble is more complicated and textured than the details we're given about Ken. It is not obvious at first what Ken is all about, but when it becomes clearer, the story is very difficult to leave. I wanted to understand how at least 2 smart women could be so taken in by him. Even though parts of Birdie's story are hard to read because they're so sad, I still couldn't put this book down until I had all the answers Jennifer Haigh was going to give me.
This is a woman's story, but it's also a very good commentary on the kind of men women fall for when they have their own unresolved issues. It is a blueprint of how women can fool themselves about someone they should know as well as they know themselves. But therein lies the problem. Too many women don't know themselves very well, so how could they possibly see the red flags frantically waving at them as they meet the next Ken Kimble.
I highly recommend Mrs Kimble by Jennifer Haigh, and I will be looking for more of her work.