Review: The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom

I tried approaching The Kitchen House with an open mind and dismiss the overall melodramatic tone of the book, but I am quite puzzled by the extent to which this book has gained popularity among readers and book clubs.  The story is premised around a young Irish girl named Lavinia who is sold as an indentured servant to plantation owners in Virginia and whose formative years are shaped by slaves who take her in and raise her as if she is their own kin.  While Lavinia's naivety can be excused in the beginning chapters of the book due to her age and lack of understanding of American society when she first immigrates to this country, it kind of blows my mind that the author continues to portray Lavinia as some innocent sacrificial lamb.  It's completely implausible that a character like Lavinia remains oblivious to slavery or to the fact that she is also property owned by other human beings.  I just don't buy that a child raised by slaves on a plantation can be so colorblind and make so many dumb and misinformed decisions.


Even though some of the brutality of slavery is accurately captured in the narrative, I thought a lot of the events that unfolded cheapened the story and were created solely for the purpose of entertainment and to create a "shock factor" as opposed to really examining the origins of racism and slavery in American history and how this destructive system has shaped this "great" country as we know it today.  Today is July 4th and while all the festivities scheduled today in celebration of America's independence are good fun, it would do well to remember the dark history of this country and how so many people lived here for centuries without freedom of choice or the right to live the lives they wanted.


I won't go into too much depth about how much the depiction of women really bothered me in this book, but the female characters are all permissive, meek, love-sick fools.  Horrible things are done to them but they all somehow manage to rally together in their misery and bond with each other after they are exposed to abuse and cruelty at the hands of white men (and yes, all the men who are not slaves in this book are basically evil or despicable - even good ole' Will Stephens grossly proclaims later in the story that he always thought of twelve year old Lavinia as 'his girl.' **gags**).  Mama Mae and Belle are perhaps the two most complex and interesting characters in the book, but as events unfold their struggles become kind of pointless. 


It's also so irritating how many times a character states something to the effect of, "I just know something bad is coming or about to happen," and then you turn the page and someone dies, is raped, is beaten, or is sold to another plantation.  I'm sorry, but the writing is not so wonderful and I would steer clear of The Kitchen House as there are other books that do a much better job addressing slavery and its lingering impact on the U.S.