She Got Up Off the Couch is Haven Kimmel’s sequel to the memoir A Girl Named Zippy, and it brings us back to small-town Indiana of the 1970s and the quirky kid she once was. Couch begins where Zippy ends – with her mother riding off on a bike to pursue an education – so the girl is a little older, a little more self-aware and aware of the adult world around her.
While Kimmel calls Zippy an homage to tiny Mooreland, Indiana, she says about She Got Up Off the Couch: “This is a love letter … most of all to the woman who stood up, brushed away the pork rind crumbs, and escaped by the skin of her teeth. It is a letter to all such women, wherever they may be.”
Like A Girl Named Zippy, this is a collection of essays rather than a linear narrative, and like Zippy, this book focuses on the child’s perspective. Kimmel’s explanation of how she came to write these anecdotes explains what makes them so perfect as an audiobook – she wrote them to amuse her sister and mother, and would phone them to read the stories aloud in her child’s voice and intonations, bringing out the comedic in the mundane and the melancholy. She Got Up Off the Couch is read by the author, and any other reading is unimaginable.
However, while still describing the funny and sweet characters that populate her beloved little town, this book is darker than A Girl Named Zippy, with more direct references to the poverty and tensions in the family, and the neglect Zippy suffered, without bitterness or blame.
Kimmel doesn’t so much write about her mother as write around her mother. Though many of the essays don’t mention Delonda at all and centre on the misadventures of the reckless and headstrong Zippy, the focus always comes back to this woman who, later than many women, but just in time for her own sanity, took charge of her own life.
She describes a woman with unrealized potential, who gave up a chance at a higher education and a different life to marry at a young age a man who wasn’t who she thought he was. Kimmel never uses the word depressed, but it’s obvious Delonda Jarvis can’t get up off the couch because she’s weighted down with depression of the life she’s found herself in, with a gambling, unsupportive husband in a chaotic household with occasionally running water and no central heating that she’s embarrassed to open up to her friends.
Against her husband’s wishes, and without much moral support from a mostly oblivious young daughter, Delonda learned to drive, bought her own $200 car and found ingenious ways to keep it running, effortlessly lost the weight she had piled on in her days on the couch, earned scholarships on her way to a Masters degree, and began to teach, creating her place in a world where women had finally earned the right to do just that.
The comment about her friends’ parents, who “without a sigh or complaint where I could hear it, kept me relatively clean and well-fed,” is an example of Kimmel writing around the dark areas. She never complains about neglect, but it’s evident, from a mother who first had little will to look after her daughter, then had other goals in her sights. Also disturbing are passages about her father trying to distance himself from Zippy as she gets too old to sit in his lap, and hints at his shadowy life and friends. Her love for her parents is evident, but so is the knowledge that they didn’t provide well for their family.
But through it all is the self-deprecating humour and lack of ego that make our narrator Zippy a likeable guide through mostly funny stories that are only tinged with sadness.
“I myself have been known to wince as if stabbed with wide-bore needles when faced with yet another coming of age memoir,” says Kimmel in the introduction. What makes her memoirs a welcome addition to the genre is the pure acceptance of these people she so obviously loves, and her ability to paint even the painful memories with a joy and wonder in the details of a childhood that is as specific to her family as it is indicative of a certain time in our collective social history.
The audiobook version comes unabridged on eight CDs, and is available from the HighBridge Audio website, where you can also hear a clip as read by author Haven Kimmel.