Though a life long Southerner, I am not a big fan of Southern Literature. But ever since reading The Secret Life of Bees, I knew I would always give any novel by Sue Monk Kidd a try. Mermaid Chair left me pretty disappointed, but I stood by my love of Bees and put myself on the library waiting list for The Invention of Wings as soon as it came out. Here’s what The Invention of Wings is about:
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. -Goodreads.com
I enjoyed the fact that this book was based on real abolitionists, the Grimke sisters. They were remarkable women in a time when women weren’t supposed to be remarked on for anything but their choice of dresses and hair styles. They were Southern Belles gone wrong, in their society’s opinion. I also appreciated how this novel portrayed a reality of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, without being as graphic as the recent popular novel, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Having been to Charleston countless times, it was a hard reality check to really imagine what some of those historic buildings were housing three hundred years ago. The historical element of the novel was the novel’s best point.
Where the book disappointed me was in the character development and very inwardly focused narrative. The narrative switches from the first person perspectives of Sarah and Handful. I got very sick of being in Sarah’s head especially. If Kidd wanted me to feel stuck in molasses, she made her point. Handful’s narrative was more humorous and interesting. I would have rather heard more about Sarah’s sisters, Angelina, but it turns out there’s not really a whole lot known about her. She was the one with spunk in the Grimke family. The slow moving span of 35 years that the novel covers and the misguided patience of Sarah throughout her life made me tempted to throw the book down in frustration. But it was on an e-reader, so I didn’t throw it.
Because of the slow pace and tiresome narrative from Sarah, this book is a 2.5-3 out of 5 star book for me. If you’re interested in the Southern history and the Grimke sisters, I would recommend it, but if you are simply looking for a book that is similar in style and feel to The Secret Life of Bees, I’d give Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt or Sarah Jio’s The Violets of March a try.