Something Rising (Light and Swift) by Haven Kimmel
I feel the same way about Something Rising as I did about A Girl Named Zippy, which I read back in 2005 (unfortunately, back then I was keeping track of books read, but hadn’t yet started to write reviews): it teeters on the brink of being brilliant, but never quite makes it there. The writing is great (I suspect if I read an excerpt, I’d give it a higher rating than I would the whole book), so much so that I find myself wanting to like the story more than I do. But if I’m honest with myself, this ends up in the “liked but did not love” pile.
Which is weird, because Cassie Claiborne is a character I should love. She’s a pool-playing tomboy with an innate understanding of geometry. She drives a beater Mazda. And Cassie is short for Cassiopeia.
It’s not so much that nothing happens. Stuff does happen (all the realm of regular-stuff-that-happens-to-regular-people, but that’s fine). It’s that Cassie (and all the other characters) seem to be sleepwalking through life. Cassie’s mother (Laura) and her boo-hoo, I should’ve married the dude I was engaged to when I ran off with your no-good dad. Gahhh! Get over it, already. Oh, well, maybe she might have if she had ever (in 30 years!) bothered to look him up and find out he’s a bigger loser than her deadbeat ex. Argh. Cassie’s sister (Belle) and her (undiagnosed!) hypochondria/phobias/whatever she has. She won’t leave the house—except she managed to go to university for 4 years, so she can conveniently have a work-from-home editing job.
But the biggest problem is that even though Cassie is the MC, I have no idea what she wants. (I mean in a concrete way—obviously she has some abstract desires.) She plays pool and does day labor and has never filed a tax return. Ok. But what does she want?! In the end there’s a deus ex machina, which combined with a foreshadowed (called it!) development, gets Cassie out of her rut… the end.
Essentially, everyone is passive and only ever does anything in reaction to events that happen to them. Passivity is fine to a certain extent (it was ok early on in the story, when Cassie was a child/teen), but if that’s all there ever is (by the end of the book, she’s well into adulthood), it’s frustrating. You want to shake all the characters and slap some life into them. And it’s not an era thing; according to the timeline, Cassie’s supposed to have grown up around the same time I did. I think this adds to my impatience.
The other thing is… the prologue starts off by foregrounding Cassie’s math skills (this is after she starts playing pool). In fact, it ends:
In this, the spring of her tenth-grade year, she had done poorly in everything but math. Her teacher, astonished, had sent a letter to Laura that said one thing: She’s a natural.
Since the prologue ended like this, my expectation was that Cassie’s pool-playing abilities were going to lead to something else (what else I don’t know, but something). Instead, they just led to more pool. (Which mostly happens off-screen, btw. I mean, if pool is to be the focus, more pool, please!) Even at the end, when she finally makes a move, the intimation is that she’s just going to continue playing pool. Which, ok, that’s fine. In real life. But it’s not very interesting in a novel. She was playing pool in the beginning and she’s still playing pool at the end… And? And? That unfulfilled expectation was the biggest let-down, I think.
When I finished A Girl Named Zippy, I didn’t love it enough to actively seek out another Kimmel book. However, I knew that if I should ever run across one on the remainder table, I would probably pick it up. Kimmel’s writing was just too promising to not give her another chance. And so when I saw Something Rising on the remainder table at Chapters, I bought it. Now I’ve read it and I feel the same way. So will I give Kimmel a third chance? Probably. 😉