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#91835 - 01/08/13 08:20 PM February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1892
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Happy New Year to all! Per our discussion in the Chicklit Book Club thread, we are shifting to bimonthly selections, so our first 2013 discussion will happen in FEBRUARY.

Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House explores issues of indentured servitude and the complexities of race through the experiences of Lavinia, a little girl from Ireland who is sold into indentured servitude in Virginia. The book alternates perspectives between Lavinia and Belle, the mixed-race, illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner, who is Lavinia's caretaker and protector.

**Trigger warning**: The blurbs provided by Amazon imply that there is some graphic coverage of a rape.

Discussion begins on FEBRUARY 15. Happy reading!

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#91852 - 01/18/13 06:12 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1892
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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*bump* No January selection this year, but our February reading is coming up!
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#91853 - 01/18/13 10:49 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
essay
Ching Shih


Registered: 08/18/01
Posts: 1729

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Although I'm not sure I'm really going to have time to read this, I thought I'd mention that someone just came in the other day and asked about this book for their offline reading group. I was pretty pleased to know of the book, although unfortunately, we didn't have it in.
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#91879 - 02/03/13 11:21 AM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: essay]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1892
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Bump! We start discussing The Kitchen House on February 15.
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#91881 - 02/08/13 09:51 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1892
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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*bump* One week until our discussion of The Kitchen House begins.
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#91894 - 02/15/13 11:58 AM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
StephA Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/13/02
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Loc: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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I'm still not sure how I felt about this book. There were great descriptions, but I found I couldn't connect with any of the characters.

I found the notes at the end interesting (you can also see the same basic story here at the author's website: http://www.kathleengrissom.com/thekitchenhousebook_011.htm) about how she came to write the book and the visions she felt pushed her to tell this story.

What did you all think?

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#91895 - 02/15/13 12:35 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
LaSalleUGirl Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/25/01
Posts: 1892
Loc: Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Welcome to the first discussion day of 2013!

I had two book club readings that are due this weekend, so I had carefully plotted out time to get both books finished. It took me longer to finish the first book than I had anticipated (Earth Abides -- you know, I just can't stand mid-20th-century fiction by dudes. I try, but it doesn't work for me.) I didn't get a chance to pick up The Kitchen House until just before bed on Monday. I finished it about 24 hours later. So, it bodes well that I couldn't put it down.

Now that I've had a few days to reflect, though, I'm finding myself frustrated with the book. It feels like Grissom asked herself, "OK, what sequence of events will create the greatest angst and drama?" and then plotted exactly that. That's not a bad thing exactly, but I feel like I could have told you after the first 50 pages pretty much what happened in the last 50 pages.

I feel like my frustrations are more about the "big picture" stuff, though. Grissom's strength is in the smaller details that gave texture to the more predictable elements. The dynamics between the house slaves and the field slaves. The little moment where Belle hisses at Lavinia to finish the ham she was served during Christmas dinner in the quarters, for instance, was a beautifully observed detail.

I also think it's really interesting that Grissom gives us portraits of different kinds of slave owners and overseers. Old Mrs. Pyke treats Belle like a granddaughter -- but doesn't actually make sure she gets freed. The Captain (and Miss Martha) seem to want the slaves to be "well-treated" (you know, other than the fact that they think humans are property), but both are so distant, whether physically or psychologically, that they can't effectively enforce those standards. Marshall and Rankin are both painted as unremittingly evil. And then there's Will Stephens, who, except for the fact that he OWNS PEOPLE, seems like kind of an awesome guy; sometimes people make these ridiculous arguments that slaves enjoyed being enslaved, but I can see why Grissom portrays Ben, Lucy, and Belle as being pretty content with working for him. Given that they can't change their enslaved condition, I can see why they'd vastly prefer belonging to someone who went out of his way to (try to) keep two families together and who otherwise seems to treat them and talk to them like human beings.

I think my very favorite parts of the book are the ones that focus on creating a family of choice in the face of terrible circumstances. Belle has as clearly become one of Mama Mae's daughters as Lavinia has become Belle's daughter, and Sukey has become Lavinia's daughter, and Jamie has become Miss Martha's lost son, DNA be damned. Belle and Lucy's unusual arrangement (or perhaps not so unusual, given the whimsical way that slave owners can create and destroy families) over Ben. And, perhaps, my very favorite moment in the entire book, when Papa points to the chickens and says it doesn't matter to them whether the chicks are black, brown, or white, and that he'll be a papa to Lavinia.


What did you think of The Kitchen House?

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#91896 - 02/15/13 08:35 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: LaSalleUGirl]
Kivrin Moderator
Ching Shih


Registered: 06/01/00
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Loc: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

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I liked it on the whole, but I found myself frustrated with it also. Piling one catastrophe on top of another made the novel veer into melodrama and I would have lost interest altogether had the story been any less interesting. Another thing that irked me was when the narration turned into lengthy paragraphs of summary. Then, there was the whole "Gone with the Wind" feel to it. But not.
On a positive note, the book held my interest, despite its predictability, and stereotypes. Grissom's attention to detail was a plus.

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#91902 - 02/20/13 03:29 PM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: Kivrin]
Kivrin Moderator
Ching Shih


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Oh, I didn't mean to kill the discussion...does anyone want to say anything else about the book?
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#91907 - 02/26/13 02:31 AM Re: February 2013 Selection: The Kitchen House [Re: Kivrin]
CaitlinM2



Registered: 03/03/09
Posts: 444
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area

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I also had a mixed reaction to The Kitchen House. On the one hand, I found it to be somewhat of page-turner, so Grissom was clearly effective at constructing a narrative that kept me wanting to know what happened next. But none of the stops along the way were very surprising, and that plus the fact that almost all the characters are well-tried types, make it feel as if there is less there.

One thing that really struck me is it hardly stands to reason that Lavinia could be so impossibly naive as she's made to be about returning to the plantation as Marshall's wife. After living as a de facto member of the family in Williamsburg (who, after all, also own their house staff) and being accepted as their near equal by Marshall, it's a bit of a stretch that she wouldn't see that she couldn't go home again, as it were. But, as LSUG suggests, that might have been necessary in order for Grissom to get from A to Z.

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