Book reviews: The Kitchen House and The Vanishing Point

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom, got pretty solid reviews around the table at my book club. I think most everyone enjoyed it, although we spent some time picking apart some parts of the characters and plot we thought we could (of course) improve. The premise is based around Lavinia, an Irish orphan who becomes an indentured servant at a Southern tobacco plantation, is taken in by a family of black slaves who work out of the kitchen house.

A great deal of the themes in the story revolved around racial issues:

how Lavinia’s white skin allows her greater advantages, and some disadvantages, compared to her adoptive black family. Amost everyone’s great dislike about the book was how weak Lavinia’s character was. I believe this might be intentional, though, showing the relative weakness of the whites versus the strength of cahacter it takes for a black slave to survive on a plantation. Instead of standing up for her family, Lavinia cops out and follows her mistress into a debilitating opium addiction. So weak, but it’s as if showing that while not facing problems as dire as that of her black family, she escapes life through drugs because she has the option to. Lavinia is also almost annoyingly naive, seemingly the last person to know about anything, including dangerous family secrets.

I thought the strength of the book came from the rick characters found at the plantation, particularly Belle’s the other narrative character (although I felt she was the secondary narrator). Somebody commented they needed Belle’s perspective on the story, if only so we had any idea what was going on since Lavinia was so clueless. I found I much preferred the warm hearty narrative about the slaves than Lavinia’s flighty perspective.

 

The Vanishing Point, by Val McDermid

This book was both compelling and irritating at the same time. A child’s guardian is helpless as she watches her ward snatched up by a mysterious man at airport security. When she (reasonably) freaks out, she’s tasered over and over then locked up. Oh, this infuriated me so much. I could exactly imagine this happening, a frantic mother trying to get to her son as the guards gleefully taser her until she passes out, all hopped up on their stupid little power trips. Ugh, airport security, particularly in the States.

In order to figure out who took him, the guardian, writer Stephanie, goes on a long rambling story about her life for the last six years as a ghost writer for a reality TV star who eventually died of cancer and left her son to Stephanie. Listen, I GET that that was how McDermid chose to introduce the whole storyline. It’s just, who does that? I’m frantic to get my son back, so why don’t we get comfy while I talk about my career and love life? The thing is, the story is very compelling, but my frustration about this kept on popping me out of it. The set up was a little too construed for me to ever truly enjoy the unravelling tale. I was absolutely compelled to find out what happened, I just wanted to yell at all the characters and the authors in the meantime.

There is a twist at the end, too, like the very last page, that blew my mind. Like – wtf, did that just happen? I did really like this book, I just had trouble with the overall construction of this.

Word of the day: (Okay, less of a word and more of a book, this came up in an article I was reading today regarding the “War on Men” and I had to look it up)

Lysistrata:  An ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes. The title character persuades the women of Athens and Sparta, which are at war, to refuse sexual contact with their husbands until the two cities make peace.

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