Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Title: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
Enjoyment Rating: 9/10
Referral: I'm not sure how this one ended up in my Audible account.
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 148

 You know when I've got the earbuds plugged in at the grocery store that I'm listening to something so good that it trumps social niceties. It's ironic that The Kitchen House, where social niceties (or the lack thereof) play such an important role in the book, had me being rude at Smith's yesterday while loading up on milk and Coke Zero. The Kitchen House is the story of Lavinia, a six-year-old whose parents died while immigrating to Philadelphia from Ireland. In exchange for the family's passage, the ship's captain takes her on as an indentured servant, and deposits her in the slave quarters of his Virginia plantation. She grows up unable to understand racial prejudice, and she carries her innocence into adulthood, with tragic consequences.

While the book was beautifully written and wonderfully narrated (that Orlagh Cassidy! I have such a crush on her!), and now that it's done, I'm left with two impressions. The first is stewardship. You'll have to trust me because I don't want to give so much away that you don't read this wonderful story, but it seems that a lot of the problems that the women and the slaves find themselves in in The Kitchen House is a result of men who don't take their stewardship seriously. When the men sleep with slaves and mismanage their finances and keep secrets and worse, everything is bad. When the men work hard and try to do good by the people in their stewardship, things generally go well. I know that's not a brilliant insight, but I was struck by how concentrated the power was in this society, and one bad man could make life hell for so many people.

The other thing I want to say is that this book would have been a 10/10, but it broke my number one cardinal rule for fiction (which I think I alluded to a few weeks ago in my Girl in Translation review). Incidentally, I also broke it in a short story I wrote for class this week (but I fully intend to change it in the editing process). Please authors, please give up on the trope of women getting pregnant after having sex one time. I know it's possible, and parents of teenage daughters use the "it only takes one time" to scare their girls into celibacy, but it doesn't happen in real life in one shot with nearly the frequency that it happens in fiction.

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