89. THE INVENTION OF WINGS, BY SUE MONK KIDD
I’ll admit: I wasn’t really attracted to the idea of reading this book, mainly because of the Oprah’s Book Club thing. Yes, so very snobbish of me, and I’m glad I managed to get over it. I’m not sure even why the Oprah’s Book Club would have been a bad thing in my mind, except maybe for some strange and hidden hipster tendency telling me that that made the book “too mainstream”. In any case, my mom recommended this, and I quite enjoyed it.
Synopsis: The book tells the story of Sarah Grimke, who, along with her sister Angelina, was a noted abolitionist/feminist at the beginning of the movement. It also follows Hettie, or “Handful”, a house slave to Sarah’s family who yearns for freedom.
Overall enjoyment: Like I said, I was surprised by how much I liked it, though my initially low expectations were mostly due to my own prejudices. Even the commentary offered wasn’t bad, and it was quite insightful at times.
Plot: Telling Hettie’s and her mom’s story was an interesting choice. She’s not exactly a historical personage, since, according to the historical note, she died when Sarah was still a child, but her side expanded the significance of the plot. It also made it possible for the book to kind of avoid the old “white savior” trope, where people try to talk about civil rights by only showing how the “good white people” fought against the “bad white people” to give minorities their rights. On the other hand, she could have done that easily by choosing a real historical figure for this counterpoint, even if this figure wasn’t directly connected to Sarah.
Characters: They are well constructed and well rounded, but, in many cases, I was left with the impression that she was “sanitizing” their political stances, so their views would be more acceptable to a modern audience.
World/setting: Again, it feels somewhat sanitized. The portrayal of the time is good enough (at least for me) in the general populace, but the main characters have views and opinions that, as far as I know, are way too modern and revolutionary for their time.
Writing style: Quite fluid and pleasant to read.
Representation: She is very inclusive, even with the historical figures, but I still think she should have chosen a real person to execute Hettie’s function instead of inventing one.
Political correctness: I already mentioned Hettie being fictional twice, so I won’t again. However, going back to the “sanitized” thing, she hides a lot of the polemic and ugliness involved in the split between abolitionists and feminists. That was still the infancy of both movements, and the society in which they were inserted was incredibly repressive, violent, and exclusionary. At that time, the abolitionist movement was profoundly misogynistic, and the feminist movement was extremely racist. She brushes over this part, and makes it sound a lot better than it actually was.
Up next: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran