Posts Tagged ‘Deep South’

The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on February 27th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (14 Mar 2013)
  • Source: Amazon Vine
  • My Rating – 4 stars

Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, The Kitchen House, is a New York Times bestseller and a firm favourite with book clubs in the United States. Despite stiff competition from many other novels set in the antebellum Deep South, this story has captured the imagination of contemporary America.

Perhaps it is the twist of placing a white female in the midst of black slaves which makes it stand out and gives it a spark of originality. Lavinia, a seven year old Irish orphan, finds herself indentured to a white plantation family and eventually discovers a new family amongst the black slaves in the kitchen house. As the years pass, she ends up in a limbo-like situation unsure of her status in society, not quite fitting in anywhere.

Yes, there are some stereotypical characters including evil overseers, drunken, power-crazed plantation owners, swooning ladies but there are also some strong female characters ironically more so among the slave population than amid the white genteel ladies who seem imprisoned by the shackles of marriage and the constraints of society. With chapters alternately narrated by either Lavinia or Belle (her guardian at the kitchen house), the reader gets a broad, balanced view of events.

There is quite a lot of misery but nevertheless this is an extremely readable, compelling story. I’m not sure if I would put it on a par with The Help as that was a more character-driven novel and there were moments of humour to alleviate the gloom but it is an impressive debut and a definite page-turner.

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The Homecoming of Samuel Lake – Jenny Wingfield

Posted in American Fiction on June 26th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is the debut novel of Jenny Wingfield, an accomplished screenwriter, and it is evident from the very first pages that she is a very talented writer and storyteller.

Set in the 1950s in Arkansas in the deep South of the US, our story begins with the sudden death of John Moses and ends with another death with a good sprinkling of violent episodes in between.  Samuel Lake is a preacher without a congregation, his unique style not making him a favourite amongst traditional pastors, so he and his family return to the homestead of his wife, Willadee (nee Moses) hoping to start afresh.   What ensues is an intriguing tale of a family in a state of flux and it isn’t until the final page that the reader discovers if Samuel’s unswerving faith in God is indeed well placed.

I really enjoyed this family saga with its fast paced narrative and its varied canvas of characters.  Most of the characters have rather bizarre names including Swan Lake, Samuel’s feisty 12 year old daughter, his sons, Noble and Bienville, brother-in-law Toy (6 foot 4!), sister-in-law Nicey and neighbour’s children, Blade and Blue.   Amidst the tragedy of every day life there is bitter sweet comedy – the Moses house has a grocery store at the front porch, open from dawn to dusk and a bar at the back open from dusk to dawn.  You get a real feel for this quirky, rural setting where folk might not exactly break the law but they can certainly bend it!  If you enjoy novels from Fannie Flagg or Sue Monk Kidd you’ll feel right at home with Samuel Lake.

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