Friday, July 1, 2011

The Kitchen House

by Kathleen Grissom

For the most part I liked this book. Ms. Grissom does a good job creating likeable (and unlikeable) characters who endure a host of tragedies. The Kitchen House is told from alternating first person narratives of two characters, both of whom are slaves on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Lavinia's enslavement is presented on two levels, first as an indentured servant to the house and finally as the wife to an abusive, alcoholic husband. Belle's slavery, too is unusual, having grown up in "the big house" the daughter of the homeowner and one of his slaves. After the death of mother and grandmother, Belle is sent to serve in the kitchen house.

Besides these two unusual circumstances of slavery, all other characters are rather stereotypical: slaves, sickly matron, evil plantation master, kindly relatives. The plot is moved forward from one misfortune to the next, but I didn't find it either surprising or depressing and maybe even expected. I liked the characters, the plantation and the concept enough to keep reading, and although the end ties mostly into a nice bow, it isn't perfect.

At times I did not think the voices of the narrators were in accordance with their current level of maturity, particularly Lavinia, who also seemed overly naive and unable to catch on to the obvious. Belle's story seemed to fill in where Lavinia fell short.

I think this is a quick and easy read that gives good representation of pre-civil war plantation conditions.

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