I know that many people swear by Oprah Book Club picks. I, on the other hand, tend to shy away from “what everyone” is reading. At least until I joined a book club last year which focused solely on New York Times Bestsellers. Though The Invention of Wings, by acclaimed author Sue Monk Kidd, was not one of the books we selected to read for that club, it was one that I had stumbled upon when doing research to make suggestions for our group. It ultimately wasn’t chosen (we use the sophisticated method of picking our next book via paper slips placed in a hat), but I was intrigued enough that I opted to put it on my library request list.
The Invention of Wings is Kidd’s third novel and debuted at #1 when it was released in January 2014. Set during the early part of the 19th Century, in Charleston, South Carolina, the novel focuses on the lives of two heroines- in simple terms, a slave and her mistress.
But what one will find is that this is no simple tale. For one, the mistress is quite reluctant to be a slave-owner. However, as a young woman, herself butting up against the restrictions that bind her to hearth and home at the will of the men around her, she has been thwarted in her efforts to emancipate the “property” that is purportedly hers.
Meanwhile, her slave is first a girl, and then a woman, who has a spirit that yearns for freedom. Her own propensity for bucking the system she was born into is both supported- and superseded by that of her mother- who can recall the snippets of the stories that her own mother told, and that were embedded with beliefs and origin tales from their native Africa.
The practice of slavery left many scars on the fabric of this nation’s history and people. Is it so surprising that a Southern, White woman would choose to write a story that interwove the lives of these women, in reflection of the stories that her own ancestors might have lived and whispered of? Perhaps more salient, does Kidd get it right?
Well, it’s pretty clear that the young slave-owner is not without her faults. She does enact her own brand of rebellion, but ultimately it is not one that improves the life of her young slave. As for that slave, well to discuss her fate too much would be to give away the ending. But it’s important to note that this is no fairy-tale story; everyone will be left with scars.
I think that is why that beyond the prose- which I can say emphatically, was well done- I can also say that I think the story itself was also well done. If everyone had been their best selves in our country, then slavery, the oppression of women, the oppression of faith groups, etc. might not have ever been institutionalized in our society. Certainly, in the case of slavery, they would not have endured for over two centuries. But people weren’t, and we still aren’t, and such it is with the world Ms. Kidd has created between the covers of this book. For those who may find themselves newly exposed to this era, I think it is a story that may lead to further study of these times and hopefully, reflection on the history and issues themselves. I wonder if that is not as much as can be hoped for from a single book, especially a work of fiction.
What do you think? Please do share your thoughts, dear readers. We are hopefully the better for it!