Wednesday, March 30, 2011

THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom

Though predictable and melodramatic, The Kitchen House hooked me with its two alternating narrators, who tell the story in a straightforward, sequential fashion, with a little overlap between the two. This was a refreshing change from so many books these days that have dual storylines in two different time periods or, worse yet, such checkered timeframes that it's difficult to keep up with what happened when or even in which generation. The book begins in the voice of Lavinia, a white, 7-year-old indentured servant whose parents died on the voyage from Ireland in the late 1700's. She quickly becomes the darling of the kitchen slaves at Tall Oaks, a Virginia tobacco plantation. Her big break comes when she goes to Williamsburg to live with the relatives of the owner's wife. Although heartbroken about leaving behind the black servants who have become her surrogate family, she receives a proper education in both academics and social etiquette to prepare her for an advantageous marriage. The other narrator is Belle, the owner's mulatto daughter who all the white folks believe to be his mistress. In fact, the plot largely hinges on Lavinia's various misconceptions about who did what to whom to the point that she deprives herself of the happily-ever-after life she could have with Will Stephens, the overseer at Tall Oaks. I found myself slapping my forehead in frustration with each of her bonehead moves, but her poor decision-making is partly due to several factors outside her control. One is that her station in life is a little precarious, and she feels that any inquiries she makes will jeopardize her situation. The other is that there are just basically a lot of secrets among the slaves, who have even more at stake than Lavinia does and, even so, are frequently punished for the misdeeds of the white folk. The book, then, comes off as somewhat of a soap opera, where the heroes and villains are clearly distinguishable, but the good guys may inadvertently contribute to their own demise by jumping to the wrong conclusion. Soap operas can be addictive, though, and this one had me eagerly looking forward to each episode.

1 comment:

Ελλάδα said...

This book is a saga well worth the read. I listened to an audio version and the reader did a spectacular job speaking in many voices and never confusing any of the characters. Her expression was spot-on. It was almost like watching a show playing out in my mind. The well developed characters are gentler and wiser than those far more educated and worldly, and they will endear themselves to you. Those that do not are typical of the cruel monsters we often encounter in life and ascribe their tormented souls to their environment or their experience, but whatever the reason, they are the dregs of the universe.