This is my review and thoughts on The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.
God, I wish I had that time back in my life = 0
Eh, it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read = 1
Shrug, I mean, it was okay = 2
I enjoyed it = 3
Have your read this book? It’s pretty good = 4
Wow, you need to read this book now = 5
The Kitchen House = 3.5
Here are my answers to book club questions provided by Simon and Schuster. Thanks guys for facilitating a closer look at the book!
1. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through two narrators? How are Lavinia’s observations and judgments different from Belle’s? Does this story belong to one more than the other? If you could choose another character to narrate the novel, who would it be?
I think that two narrators was a great choice. The difference between Belle and Lavinia’s experiences are quite different. It gave the reader a chance to see the world between the two races and between different ages. Lavinia is a child when she is brought into the situation, that shapes the way she sees things. She doesn’t have as many life experiences to go by. She does not fully comprehend the situation of her adoptive family until pretty far into her being the Lady of the plantation. Even when she lived with Miss Martha’s sister, Lavinia still remains largely oblivious to the plight of slaves. Her adoptive family with Belle and Mama Mae shelter her from the worst of it. Miss Martha’s sister shelters her as well. However, I can not help but question whether some of it was a conscious oversight by Lavinia. How can she not understand the dire circumstances of her adoptive family? Especially when she leaves the reach of Mama Mae?
In some regards though, Belle is also delusional about her situation – her judgements are similar to Lavinia’s. The fact that she would rather stay with her family at Tall Oaks than get her freedom papers directly addresses that. Mama Mae shelters her from a lot of it, by keeping her in the kitchen house, so Belle does not fully understand that her situation at Tall Oaks could suddenly change at the drop of hat, which we see later on in the novel. This thread reappears with the younger children in the family, most notably, Sookie.
Both Lavinia and Belle make poor choices in regards to how they go about remaining/returning to Tall Oaks.
I don’t think Lavinia really understood the situation until Mama Mae hung, maybe not even Belle. Their eyes really didn’t start to open until Lavinia was hiding in the loft and Belle when her son was taken from her. I do think it still took Mama Mae’s hanging for either girl to fully comprehend. This is represented in the scenes when Belle marches over and demands to buy Jaime. Yes, driven by understandable emotion, but not taking in the true nature of the situation.
If I could pick a third narrator, it would be Mama Mae. It would have been interesting to hear her thoughts in regards to the balance between keeping her children safe and opening their eyes to the real world. It would have been thought provoking to listen to her take in Lavinia, a white child, in the midst of a plantation. To hear her response to Master Marshall. To hear her thoughts during the sacrifice of her life for Belle’s.
2. “Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband. . . Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets” (page 107). Why does the captain keep Belle’s true identity a secret from his wife and children? Do you think the truth would have been a relief to his family or torn them further apart? At what point does keeping this secret turn tragic?
I think the captain keeps the secret because it is one thing to have sex with a slave, there is still plausible deniability, but to father a child is quite another situation entirely. I think it also speaks to the reprehensible nature of racism and its contradictions. A mixed race baby is a conundrum for racists. It raises a lot of questions about what is at the fundamental root of racism and slavery. How does one condemn their child that is part white to a life of slavery? Does having any part of another skin color in your baby damn them? How much is enough to condemn the child? It’s too much rational thinking for racist people to confront themselves with.
3. Marshall is a complicated character. At times, he is kind and protective; other times, he is a violent monster. Is he to blame for what happened to Sally? Why do you think Marshall was loyal to Rankin, who was a conspirator with Mr. Waters?
No, he is not to blame. Did he let his anger get the best of him and did he make a very poor, lethal decision? Yes. Did he mean to kill his sister? Of course not.
I have no idea why Marshall was loyal to Rankin. Maybe someone can explain it to me. Maybe Marshall isn’t even sure why he is so loyal to Rankin.
4. Describe the relationship between Ben’s wife, Lucy, and Belle. How does it evolve throughout the novel? Is it difficult for you to understand their friendship? Why or why not?
Yes, I had a hard time with their friendship. However, I’m not in their situation. I think in life, we make the best we can of the situation we find ourselves in. The book references this statement in regards to Belle. Belle states she would never fall to the comfort of drops, as Lavinia does, because you have to fight, hold your head up high. Belle and Lucy are slaves. They are subjected to a very cruel life. They each find comfort in the same man. They cling to the fact that they have this one small comfort. Do they really want to focus on the negative? It should be noted that black women in the book have the worst of it. Not only are they slaves, but the men cheat on them. Just as in real life women of color have it the worst.
5. “I was as enslaved as all the others” (page 300). Do you think this statement by Lavinia is fair? Is her position equivalent to those of the slaves? What freedom does she have that the slaves do not? What burdens does her race put upon her?
She is absolutely not as enslaved as all others. She is not the equivalent of the slaves. She has a million more freedoms than her family. One only has to think of if she picked Will, she would have not only been free, but wealthy, and extremely loved. In fact, she had it better off than most women of her race – she was presented in a wealthy circle. What Lavinia did, was pick the wrong man. This does not discount the fact that women had limited choices, but Lavinia had more choices and opportunities than most.
Her race is not a burden, her sex is.
Even when she gets the courage to remove herself from the situation with Marshall, she can’t, because she is a woman. Being female removes a lot of her choices – as in who she could date, how she would support herself. Her sex also makes her subservient to her husband.
Still, with all that being said, this is a dumb question. Being a slave is the worst.
Until next time.
Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at . Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com