Monday, May 25, 2015

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
(Viking / Penguin Audio, 2014)
Format: audio via library (narrated by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye)

From Goodreads: "Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements."

I'm always surprised by what Sue Monk Kidd comes up with next. It all fits into the puzzle of her authorial voice, but it's not a picture I would predict based on any one title. Her newest is the story of a Charleston slave and the girl who was her owner (Sarah Grimke was a real abolitionist; this telling of her life is, like wings, invented.) As they move from girlhood to adulthood, their influence on each other is constant if never easy. (Well, duh. Handful's a slave. Sarah's opposition to the institution doesn't make a lot of practical difference for most of Handful's life. Other than when she's punished for things Sarah does, such as teach her to read.) 

Charleston and its inhabitants are full of life, especially the various Grimke family members and slaves. Kidd embroiders together several threads of influence and counter-influence - political, religious, familial, economic - as she completes the picture of their world. 

I find Jenna Lamia's voice syrupy, especially when she's narrating younger characters, and I find some
of her secondary characters grating. As Sarah matures, Lamia's tones mellow and I was able to enjoy her reading. This is the first time I've heard Adepero Odyue's narration, and I loved how well her interpretation of Handful conveyed weariness, elation, fear, and hope in turn. 

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