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The Used World

The Used World

A Novel

  • reading group guide
"It was mid-December in Jonah, Indiana, a place where Fate can be decided by the weather, and a storm was gathering overhead." So Haven Kimmel, bestselling author of A Girl Named Zippy, prepares us to enter The Used World -- a world where big hearts are frequently broken and sometimes repaired; where the newfangled and the old-fashioned battle it out in daily encounters both large and small; where wondrous things unfold just beneath the surface of everyday life; and where the weather is certainly biblical and might just be prophetic.

Hazel Hunnicutt's Used World Emporium is a sprawling antique store that is "the station at the end of the line for objects that sometimes appeared tricked into visiting there." Hazel, the proprietor, is in her sixties, and it's a toss-up as to whether she's more attached to her mother or her cats. She's also increasingly attached to her two employees: Claudia Modjeski -- freakishly tall, forty-odd years old -- who might finally be undone by the extreme loneliness that's dogged her all of her life; and Rebekah Shook, pushing thirty, still living in her fervently religious father's home, and carrying the child of the man who recently broke her heart. The three women struggle -- separately and together, through relationships, religion, and work -- to find their place in this world. And it turns out that they are bound to each other not only by the past but also by the future, as not one but two babies enter their lives, turning their formerly used world brand-new again.

Astonishing for what it reveals about the human capacity for both grace and mischief, The Used World forms a loose trilogy with Kimmel's two previous novels, The Solace of Leaving Early and Something Rising (Light and Swift). This is a book about all of America by way of a single midwestern town called Jonah, and the actual breathing histories going on as Indiana's stark landscape is transformed by dying small-town centers and proliferating big-box stores and SUVs. It's about generations of deception, anguish, and love, and the idiosyncratic ways spirituality plays out in individual lives. By turns wise and hilarious, tender and fierce, heartrending and inspiring, The Used World charts the many meanings of the place we call home.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743247795 | 
  • June 2008
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
The Used World
By Haven Kimmel

Discussion Points
1. The preface briefly introduces the three main characters and their triangular connection. What do Hazel, Claudia, and Rebekah have in common? In what ways are they different?
2. On page 8, Amos Townsend tells Claudia, "I see people all the time who say they are lonely but it's a code word for something else." Do you think this is true in Claudia's case? Why or why not? What is loneliness a code word for in the cases of Hazel and Rebekah?
3. Hazel describes vague memories of a world of women, the men all gone off to war. Are the women in this novel different with one another than they are in the presence of men?
4. What is the significance of the flashback to 1950 on page 15, where Hazel has her nighttime encounter with the owl? Where else does this symbol appear in the novel?
5. How do physical descriptions and personality quirks help define the characters in The Used World? Identify these descriptions and explain what they reveal about each character.
6. The women in this novel all struggle with motherhood, either through their relationships to their actual mothers or through becoming mothers themselves. Describe the ways in which motherhood poses challenges and otherwise changes these characters.
7. Claudia laments the demise of the Old Mother -- exemplified by her mother, Ludie -- and the rise of the New Mother, represented by h see more

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About the Author

Haven Kimmel
Photo Credit:

Haven Kimmel

Haven Kimmel is the author of The Used World, She Got Up Off the Couch, Something Rising (Light and Swift), The Solace of Leaving Early, and A Girl Named Zippy. She studied English and creative writing at Ball State University and North Carolina State University and attended seminary at the Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Durham, N.C.

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