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Our Kind: A Novel in Stories Hardcover – March 23, 2004

24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mannered yet curiously moving, this novel in stories by Walbert (The Gardens of Kyoto) tells the collective tale of a group of wealthy suburban women who came of age in the 1950s and are now facing life long after husbands and children have flown the coop ("We were married in 1953. Divorced in 1976. Our grown daughters pity us; our grown sons forget us"). Free of old inhibitions and with nothing left to lose ("they think us heartless and we are, somewhat"), they embark on odd crusades and projects when they aren't shopping or gossiping around the pool. In the brilliant "Intervention," they decide to save their favorite realtor, Him, who represents "our faithless husband, our poor father. He is our bad son, our schemer, our rogue.... Still, we love Him," then realize they need help themselves. Love recalled (and often ridiculed) is a recurring subject. In "Esther's Walter," Esther, the group's "artistic one," invites the group to a sinister party on the anniversary of her husband's death; in "Bambi Breaks for Freedom," the wheelchair-bound Bambi seeks her friends' support as she sets herself free from an old heartbreak. Walbert offers other sharp snapshots of the remaining members of the group, among them earnest, forgetful Judy; Canoe, the bouncy, ever-recovering alcoholic; Barbara, whose depressed daughter kills herself; "frigid" Gay who married a gay man; Suzie, the country club matron who fails to get her female lover admitted to the club; and lonely Louise. In an era when women went to college to study "the three Gs: Grooming, Grammar, and Grace," Walbert's characters are caught like insects in amber as they make late-in-life discoveries no school could ever teach. Brittle, funny and poignant, this is a prickly treat.
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From Booklist

Walbert daringly depicts the golden years of a generation of women, better described as the 1950s country-club set, now that they're either divorced or widowed and their homes are devoid of children. Their men, who have left them for younger women, are ailing executives in need of a boost to their sorry egos from someone naive enough to be of service. For the most part, though, these ladies are not sitting around crying. They're taking action: calling up old boyfriends in the middle of the night, organizing to save the geese at the country club--they've learned plenty about intervention. This is a unique novel about eight companions finally taking the path of their choice without the socially imposed restrictions of yesteryear. Walbert incorporates bittersweet humor as her characters sort through the rubble of their lives while sitting alongside the pool watching the tan pool boy do his work. An eye-opening experience for anyone who thinks that the 1950s woman is still in the kitchen wearing a housecoat. Elsa Gaztambide
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (March 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743245598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743245593
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,472,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kate Walbert is the author of Where She Went, a New York Times Notable Book of 1998; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the Connecticut Book Award for fiction in 2002; and Our Kind, finalist for the National Book Award in 2004. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and numerous other publications. She lives in New York City and Connecticut with her family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Patricia H. Parker on December 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure why this book didn't win the National Book Club Award. I have read three of the other finalists and this is, by far, the best of the bunch. It is a "must read" for women of all ages.

I am a bit younger than these women - our age group spanned the time before the Feminist Movement and after. We were on the cusp. Therefore, some of the things which affected these women where "preached" to my age group, but many of us were lucky and escaped. We went back to school and finished our educations, and, when our husbands left or died and our children grew up, we had other places and things to which to turn, and now we have new memories to replace the old ones. I am surprised that, none of the reviews I have read mention Viv. She, of all the characters, is the most poignant for me. Viv is the brilliant, but poor girl, who is awarded a full scholarship to Smith. However, it is the time when young women went to college to earn their MRS. degree, and, in spite of being championed by a pair of women professors and pushed toward graduate school, she hears the "siren call" and marries a month after receiving her undergraduate degree. He is a non-entity and soon becomes colorless in her eyes so that, after he is no longer a part of her life, she can't even remember what he looks like. However, she remembers vividly, half a century later, the professors - how they looked - how they spoke to her - how angry they were when she gave up her birthright to get married. Now she runs the "book club" for the ladies and watches the sessions dissolve into "niggling" and nonsense spoken by women who will never be as bright as she, and who just don't understand the inner meanings of the books they read.

This is a book which should be on the reading lists of every Women in Literature class in this country, and it teaches lessons which should never be forgotten by any woman of any age.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on September 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Kate Walbert's Our Kind is a delightful gem, a wonderful work reminiscent of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, a novel several of the characters in this novel discuss at a book club. Both novels focus on the circularity of time, but Walbert's novel also focuses on the ravages of time, particularly on this collection of women in the novel. These women were married in fifties and now are all alone, deserted by husband and children by death, by divorce, by choice. Time is running out for them, but not many of them acknowledge that. Time swirls by them, the past comes back, they relive it, it repeats itself. These are wealthy women, not usually pitied, yet their stories echo with horrible tragedy, much death, many sadnesses. The narrative in the novel is lyrical without being too much or two twee. Walbert has done an excellent job; Our Kind is an excellent, moving novel.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on August 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although Walbert does not pinpoint her location, various clues lead me to believe that this book is situated around Wilmington Delaware or Philadelphia, a milieu I am very familiar with. The portraits of these women are drawn with such accuracy I feel I could provide their true names, including my mother. Since she still lives there with her cronies from her youth, husbands and children either gone or scattered, through these stories I have a truer insight into her life than I have gotten from the weekly telephone conversations we share. I know this is a very subjective review, but it is rare that a book has hit me at such a personal level.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on April 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Our Kind," Kate Walbert's novel-in-stories about the psychological malaise afflicting women who became adults in the 1950s and who are now confronting life in their 60s, never achieves its intriguing premise. Walbert's individual stories lack coherence; her prose tends to be overwritten, precious or overly obscure; her characters rarely invite sympathy or compassion, much less understanding. Though Walbert intends "Our Kind" to provide insight into the genuine existential dilemmas aging women experience, the novel is really little more than a litany of sorror that poor little rich girls -- now women -- encounter.

Each character, whether she be physically disabled, ditzy, an artist, a widow, cancer-stricken, jaded or booze-addled, has been "led down a primrose lane, then abandoned somewhere near the carp pond." Forsaking intellectual aspirations and career possibilities contemporary women now presume as birthrights, these erudite, Smith-educated, polished (like prized apples) and repressed (orgasm-starved) characters chose or had chosen for them a life of taking "dictation from war heroes in grey suits." Their college curriculum consisted of the "3 G's: Grace, Grooming and Grammar. Some of us dropped out before Grace." They did everthing their men asked them to: be homemakers, silent hostesses, acquiescent sexual partners and mothers. Yet, somewhere, by middle age, the wheels had fallen off. The women of "Our Kind" keen with pain and betrayal.

Their collective voices form a chorus of sorrow and lament, not the presupposed aria of joy, contentment and fulfillment they had envisioned hearing. "Our Kind" is a filled with an ineluctable sadness and no small amount of unresolved bitterness. The women, budding with excitement in their 20s, now have gone to seed.
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