The book chosen by my book club this month was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. The Kitchen House tells the story of a young girl, Lavinia, who is orphaned while traveling onboard a ship to America. The captain of the ship acquires her as an indentured servant and takes her to his tobacco plantation where he places her in the care of Belle, the captain’s illegitimate daughter who runs the kitchen house. Desperate for a family and a place to belong, Lavinia slowly integrates herself into the family of slaves that she works and lives with, not realizing that she will always be different because of her white skin.
This book was an interesting read as it dealt with race, family, and class in the South at the turn of the 18th century but that is probably the only positive thing about this book. It was not a happy read; in fact it was quite depressing at times. It seemed as though anything that could go wrong, did. I understand that the author was trying to make the story authentic and that many horrors that befell the characters actually happened at that period in time. However, I felt that the author fell back on a lot of stereotypes in her attempt to bring the story to life and just threw in everything she knew about slavery and that time period. There were many deaths due to illness, a mistress addicted to laudanum, the cruel overseer, the master who abused the slaves, the “Mammy” type slave who could have stepped from the pages of Gone with the Wind, and the mulatto slave, to name a few. At times there was just too much and it felt as though I was reading a parody.
I find it hard to write a review for a book that I didn’t really enjoy. Maybe I feel guilty because someone took the time to write this novel and I took the time to read it, and yet I’m stating that it wasn’t good. Or, perhaps I wonder what the point is of writing a review for a product that isn’t great, but isn’t bad. Usually, the reason that I don’t like a book is that it just doesn’t speak or appeal to me. Maybe I didn’t care for the plot, maybe the plot was good but I didn’t care for the author’s writing style, maybe I just didn’t like one of the characters. Like all art, writing is subjective, and I suppose I question my own authority to say that this author’s art is not any good.
If you haven’t guessed, I thought The Kitchen House was an okay book. It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t the worst. I would most likely give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s the author’s first novel so I would be interested to see what she publishes next. Would I recommend this book? Probably not. But I wouldn’t discourage someone from reading it, if they wanted to.