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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom 'The Kitchen House' is the story of Lavinia, a young Irish girl who becomes an indentured servant when her parents die on the way to America. She is placed with the Captain's black slaves before he departs for the high seas again. Promising start, right? It all goes down hill from there.

The author uses dual first person perspectives for each chapter, alternating between Lavinia and Belle, the black woman who raises her. This is not a writing style that I am very fond of, and in this novel it seems to serve no purpose. The Belle chapters may as well be titled "spoiler" because they give away information that makes the rest of the story far too predictable. A little more mystery would have made this book more interesting.

Then there is the historical content. If I could have ignored the references to restaurants, slaves having the weekend off, and people literally getting away with murder, maybe I would have enjoyed this more. I just didn't feel like I was transported onto a post-Revolution tobacco plantation. The interactions between the white people and slaves were all extreme. Either they were "family" and color made absolutely no difference or black people were property and to be used as such. No moderate view seemed to exist with the possible exception of Will Stephens' but I think we're only supposed to notice that he is hot. Despite the clear race lines, it takes Lavinia until page 149 to realize that they exist. How is a girl living with slaves surprised by the division between blacks and whites? The whole story feels like a turn of the century soap opera, from the man who impregnates his sister to the two women who agree to share a husband.

Lavinia didn't do much to inspire any sympathy from me. She is meek, timid, and makes huge decisions based on assumptions and fear. I also had to roll my eyes at the fact that about the time she reached puberty three men started fighting for the right to marry her. It's every successful 1800s man's dream to marry the indentured servant. Of course, in her naivety, Lavinia chooses the wrong one. She is blind to the most obvious things going on around her - for years . . . . years. Maybe she gets it from Belle who is also amazingly capable of making bad decisions and keeping things secret for long enough to have severe consequences.

Maybe I've become too much of a historical fiction snob, but I like a little history with my fiction, not farfetched romance and exaggerated drama. I'm being generous with the 3 stars here and would not recommend it. Go read 'Roots' instead.