The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd. Viking, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-670-02478-0
Sarah and Handful Grimké split the narration in Kidd’s third novel, set in pre–Civil War Charleston, S.C., and along an abolitionist lecture circuit in New England. Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) is no stranger to strong female characters. Here, her inspiration is the real Sarah Grimké, daughter of an elite Charleston family, who fought for abolition and women’s rights. Handful, Kidd’s creation, is Sarah’s childhood handmaid. The girls are friends. Sarah teaches Handful to read, and proclaims loudly at dinner that she opposes slavery. However, after being severely punished, she abandons her aspirations—for decades. Time passes, and Handful is given the freedoms she was formerly denied. The book’s scope of 30-plus years contributes to a feeling of plodding in the middle section. Particularly insufferable is the constant allusion, by both women, to a tarnished button that symbolizes perseverance. But Kidd rewards the patient reader. Male abolitionists, preachers, and Quakers repeatedly express sexist views, and in this context, Sarah’s eventual outspokenness is incredibly satisfying to read. And Handful, after suffering a horrific punishment, makes an invaluable contribution to an attempted slave rebellion. Bolstered by female mentors, Kidd’s heroines finally act on Sarah’s blunt realization: “We can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men.” Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/21/2013
Release date: 01/07/2014
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