The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is this month's official book club selection. I mentioned earlier today on this blog's Facebook page that my latest read just would not leave me alone even after I had put the book down each day. The Kitchen House is that book. Each night I would lie in bed to read a few chapters. Of course that would turn into a few more chapters and before long it was far later than I intended. The problem with this was that even though I would close the book, I couldn't stop the story from invading my dreams. Two nights in a row I could barely sleep for worrying about these characters. Finally, I decided the only way I was going to get any rest would be to just finish the book, even if it meant staying up late. That is just what I did last night.
The Kitchen House follows the life of Lavinia, a young white girl, beginning in 1791. Her parents both die on the journey from Ireland to America and in order to pay the debt for the trip, she becomes an indentured servant working in the kitchen house of the ship's captain. Lavinia is raised by the slaves working on the plantation and she thinks of them as family. I love historical fiction because it relies so heavily on fact and I learn so much through the lives of the characters. Unfortunately, being based on true events, the reader can guess at the direction of the storyline. In this case, for me it just added to the dread.
I found this book captivating and engrossing, but also extremely distressing. A book about slaves is not likely to have much of a happy ending. I know this, but what I didn't know was just how bad these characters might have it. I've mentioned before that I am not a nail biter, but this week I did chew off a nail or two. The overseer is horrible. What will he do to the slaves? The baby is sick. Will he survive? A slave is tied up and being sold to the slave trader. Will we ever see him again? It was horribly stressful for me. This is precisely why I could not sleep.
I must admit that I became frustrated at times with some of the characters. This was not a time of speaking one's mind openly for the characters in these positions, but if only a few more words had been said, things could have been so different. Someone would begin to tell the truth, to explain a situation, but then he or she would stop and the reader was forced to watch another opportunity pass. This novel is filled with action and the climax is heart-wrenching. What I didn't care for was the way that the author seemed to wrap up and end the story rather quickly at the end. There were loose ends that I didn't feel were addressed or if the were, it wasn't quite enough for me.
All in all, I did enjoy this book, but I would certainly recommend reading it quickly. Don't stretch it out because you won't want to put down the book and if you have to, it will make you crazy. I did find the Author's Note at then end of the book interesting. Grissom said that several times she attempted to change the direction of the storyline, but each time she did, the story would just stop. It would only flow when she followed the way the story wanted to lead her. I love hearing an author talk about a book having a mind of it's own. It makes me think maybe there's far more to writing a book than a person sitting down at her laptop with an outline and a deadline. Perhaps the stories are already there, just waiting for the right person to transcribe them.