Rebecca Dougherty's Reviews > The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
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Jul 17, 2010

really liked it
Read in July, 2012

A real page turner with short chapters and non-stop dramatic action. At points I was thinking, "c'mon, all this craziness can't be happening!" but it made for interesting reading. I literally could not put the book down.

The story is told through alternating chapters from the perspectives of Lavinia, an indentured servant from Ireland, and Belle, a slave, on a tobacco plantation. Lavinia is raised by the African American slaves working in the big house, but eventually ends up marrying the landowner's son, Marshall, and becomes mistress of the house. Due to poor treatment by his parents, believing his 1/2 black sister was actually his father's lover, sexual and emotional abuse by his tutor as a young man, his inadvertent murder of his younger sister, and alcoholism, Marshall turns out to be a horrific master. He sides with his menacing overseer, Rankin, beats Lavinia, pays no attention to his child, rapes and fathers children with Beattie, one of the house slaves, all after raping and impregnating Belle, Lavinia's surrogate mother. Interwoven throughout the book is so much tragedy from the death of young children to the death of the landowner and some of his slaves from disease outbreaks. The original house mistress, Miss Martha, goes mad and is in an insane asylum for the years Lavinia and Marshall study in Philadelphia. Belle raises her 1/2 white son only to have him taken from her and given to Miss Martha, while she works on the neighbor's land, a man who originally works Marshall's land while he's in Philadelphia and eventually buys his own acres, and whom Lavinia is actually in love with. He goes to Philly to propose to Lavinia, but she believes he is the one who fathered Belle's son, not Marshall who she actually winds up marrying. To further complicate things, Belle shares her love, Ben, with another woman, Lucy, because Marshall threatens to kill Ben if he catches him with Belle again. The book ends with Marshall having to sell many of his slaves who are also Lavinia's friends and like family due to his drinking and gambling debts, so those left decide to run.
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