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Originally published Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"Iodine" gets inside the troubled mind of a woman with a dark past

Haven Kimmel tests the waters of the psychological-horror genre in "Iodine," her novel about a brilliant, psychotic young woman.

Special to The Seattle Times

"Iodine"

by Haven Kimmel

Free Press, 223 pp., $24

Haven Kimmel's new novel has the least reliable of narrators — a hallucinating amnesiac — who is plagued by childhood abuse and tragedy. It is a profoundly disturbing book and could not be more different from the memoir of a happy childhood that made Kimmel famous, "A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana."

The incoherence of "Iodine's" plot — and just about anything else in the book — can be blamed on the psychosis of its narrator, Trace Pennington. When the novel begins, Trace is a college student living in an abandoned house with her beloved dog. She has friends who may or may not exist and a strong grasp of Freud and Jung, Plath and Dostoyevsky.

Trace is sympathetic, despite streaks of conceit and meanness. She marries a professor who leaves another professor for her. When the brokenhearted woman rebukes Trace, she replies: "I accept your claim, Dr. Cohen, and I apologize. But I would like to point out that while you came late to literature, you surely know the definition of irony. You quote Emma Goldman and Andrea Dworkin and use phrases like 'the meta-ethics of gyno-feminism,' and yet you are fighting like a cheerleader over a man."

Readers catch only glimpses of how Trace appears to others, notably on a few pages near the end of the book in which she hears her husband and a doctor discussing her illness following a major breakdown. "No one ever noticed that she had a seizure disorder? Transient global amnesia, that she was completely disassociative, she probably hallucinated, lost autobiographical details. You?" the doctor asks.

It is intriguing to piece together Trace's life, but as her plight becomes clearer, the book becomes less interesting and more of a slickly written and gratuitous psychological horror story.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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