Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd's sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.      

My take: 3 looks

The book is well-written and has a few very good lines. Here are a few:
  • If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.
  • When I was being forgiving, I said that my mother was simply exhausted. I suspected, though, she was simply mean.
  • Mary didn't seem to care for books, but I ...I dreamed of them in my sleep. I loved them in a way that I couldn't fully express even to Thomas.
  • My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment.
  • She'd been boiled down to a good, strong broth. (probably my favorite)

So, you can see that the writing is nice and tight, and the fact that the story is based on actual historical figures lends it an air of authority. The punishments for the slaves are gruesomely accurate, as is the apathy of master toward slave.

There are two things that keep me from giving this more than three looks. The first is quite unfair on my part, and that is that I have read more than one slave-era, black-vs-white book lately. I think, much like happened with Nazi Germany books in my recent reading past, I simply need to take a break from this genre so that is it fresher for me at a later time.

While reading "Wings", I couldn't help but compare it to the recent book club selection, "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom. Like this book, it was told from the perspective of an owner and a slave. However, "Kitchen" had a depth that this one didn't have. One of the narrators was herself an indentured servant, who later became the owner/mistress of the house. There was more of an evil presence in several of the characters, and the end was more fulfilling.

The other item weighing in on my rating is the fact that Monk Kidd also wrote "The Secret Life of Bees," one of my all time favorite books. The writing in that book is exquisite, insightful, heart-wrenching and palpable. "Wings" pales in comparison from an author from whom I expected so much more.

On a final note, I was delightfully surprised when I learned that many of the characters in the book were real, and the story was inspired by their lives. I did further research on each one, and how their individual lives intertwined.

This book is, overall, recommended.

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