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After reading "The Kitchen House" I believe that Kathleen Grissom has crafted an absorbing historical tale that probes the darkest edges in this villainous period of American history by employing an extraordinary and distinctive approach. The author cleverly created two contrasting protagonists, Lavinia, the white girl-to-woman, and Belle, the mixed race slave, to move the story alternately from their separate perspectives; Ms. Grissom guides the reader into the deepest reaches of the soul of each character in the book. For me, at least, this memorable cast of characters, from the good ones to the downright evil ones seems to have established permanent residence in my thoughts. While I agree with M. Jacobsen's comment that Belle's chapters could have been longer (I really loved Belle), I don't believe her role to be less significant than Lavinia's. Lavinia, as a white person observes and shares the slave experience from within. This approach is unique, I think. At least, I don't recall encountering the technique in literature, and I found it extremely compelling.
The actual historical events of the period are less prominent than the actions, emotions and motivations of the people who live on either side of the implied, but not to be violated, boundary between the races. I think that the complicated relationships between Lavinia and Belle, Mama, and many of the other characters, allow the reader to discover tiny, but significant, cracks in this boundary through which the plot races along from crisis to crisis and then to the shocking, yet fitting conclusion.
Ms. Grissom obviously conducted exhaustive research into the time period of the book. As a born Canadian, she must be commended.Read more ›
At 17, I realize that I'm not the greatest authority on literary merit. My life has been short, relatively unlived, inexperienced. I spend most of my time living through the lives of fictional people on someone else's pages and I feel the uneven weight of the book in my hands. I read The Kitchen House and couldn't feel a thing that wasn't being felt by Belle and Lavinia. I saw only them, their world. And when it was all over, I felt that I might cry because the last page had turned but suddenly, it seemed like the room wasn't empty. As I read, all of them- Belle, Ben, Marshall even- had peeled their backs off the words to hover around me. And they haunted me for days, followed me everywhere. This novel is the kind that pulls in one as one person before spitting you back out wholly other. Maybe it's the raw, unabashed emotion, the unhindered heartache that claws into you, snags on that darkest part of you and intensifies it. Makes you regret your sins and rejoice in your loves. Either way, I felt what I've rarely felt- that my short life may have been slightly changed by The Kitchen House- or, really, the lives of those inside of it. That I had moved one inch, however miniscule, closer to that part of my bloodline, my heritage, which had remained so almost dreamlike in its distance, untouchable. Belle could be anyone's ancestor, Lavinia could be anyone's history. Yeah, that's it. I felt, I think, for the first time, really connected to a past I had only ever read about in text books. In 2 days, this novel revealed more than 12 years of U.S. History. And made it real, true, beautifully horrible in every ghostly- or ghastly- way. There really aren't words, though I've used a considerable amount, to describe the swell of emotions you feel while reading this. But I suppose that's where the beauty lies. In the ability of words on white pages to create from their inhumanity that rawest spectrum of feelings which mark us as truly human. The "O" of OSG, Olivia
I had a hard time deciding exactly how to rate this one, and I'll explain why. "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom is a novel I was sure I'd love when I read the blurb. I'm a history buff, particularly fond of the South, and an avid reader.
First, the parts I loved. The characters are well-drawn and easy to love or hate, depending on which one we're talking about. Most points are plausible, which shows the author must have done a great deal of research. The plot gave this book a storyline I absolutely enjoyed; as I fell asleep each night during the time I read this, I'd wondered about the characters and what would happen to them.
Now onto the parts I wasn't so fond of. The main problem I had with the prose was that so many large sections were told in a summerized fashion, as opposed to being written in a way that gave the reader more connection with the story, a great example of the wrong side of the 'show vs tell' writers are warned against. Some historical facts were recited in a teacherly manner instead of being better incorporated into the story. There were A LOT of redundant areas where the reader repeated the exact same thing over and over and over, which greatly detracted from the story and made me wonder if word count had been an issue. One example would be when the parentage of a particular person was discussed between different characters in one chapter at least four times using nearly the same wording. There were a few historical points that I think were a bit off, and the accents could have more accurate. For example, the main character Lavinia is straight off the ship from Ireland but there is only one mention of her accent and it never shows through in her dialogue.
I was enthralled with the story, but the prose could have been more polished.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom is now happily rooted in south-side Virginia, where she and her husband live in the plantation tavern they renovated. The Kitchen House is her first novel.