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The Kitchen House
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message 1: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12911 comments Start discussion here for The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.


Sarah | 662 comments OMG. I read last week because I have so many books scheduled for June. Best book I read this year - aside from Les Mis of course. So I can say this right off the back. WTF. I was already crying in the short few page prologue. Never had I read 3 pages of a book and started crying already. I couldn't put this book down. We will have a lot to discuss.


Esther (nyctale) | 107 comments I expect to start reading it next week.


message 4: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12911 comments Sarah wrote: "OMG. I read last week because I have so many books scheduled for June. Best book I read this year - aside from Les Mis of course. So I can say this right off the back. WTF. I was already crying in ..."

It is such a powerful book and one that can elicit many strong emotions. I love how you can see the different viewpoints of the characters. I have read a lot of books about slavery, but no books that also included the experience of indentured servants.


Bluemoon (bluemoon286) | 985 comments I read this last month and I loved it. It was a powerful book. It was interesting to get the different perspectives of a slave and that of an indentured servant.


Jennifer | 109 comments I am about a third of the way done and holy cow emotional! I think that the author does a good job of developing all the characters. Can't wait to keep reading!


message 7: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Rosa | 6 comments I can't put this book down. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it. Really great read and the characters are so powerful.


Sarah | 662 comments Yeah - this book was soooo good. I read it early and quickly which sucks because then I move on to the next read and foreget stuff. But there really is some good stuff to discuss. It is my favorite book I enjoyed reading this year.


Dana | 13 comments Great group choice of a novel. I read The Kitchen House some time ago and marvelled at the intricate plot and the roundness of the characters (who were many). Grissom is a brilliant writer who injects her novel with a sensitivity, and a symbiosis between the various characters that is mesmeric and draws the reader right into their turmoil and raw emotions. I was struck by the depth of their compassion, haunted by their sufferings and by Lavinia's desperate need to belong, in spite of the social boundaries. This is a portrayal of human nature at its best, where in spite of all "wrongs", righteousness prevails. For those who haven't read it yet, enjoy! As I'm sure you will.


Sarah | 662 comments Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through two narrators? How are Lavinia' s observations and judgements different from Belle's? Does this story belong to one more than th other? If you could choose another character to narrate the novel who would it be?


message 11: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Rosa | 6 comments It was very interesting to hear from each side especially when you learn of the secrets that only Belle knows and Lavinia misinterprets. I did feel the story was more Lavinia's than Belle's, maybe just because her chapters were longer and more in-depth than Belle's but I wouldn't change the choice of characters as the two narrators. Excellent read and I'm very glad we picked this one for this month!


Sarah | 662 comments I agree. Two narrators were able to give away more secrets to the reader. I also think it gave an opportunity to develop a young white child who is a blank slate without the preconceived notions of racism just wanting love and a family develop these familial ties with her black family and through being raised in this time we can see how racism is bred and tought because Lavinia is white. Also it gives us a perspective from Belle's perspectives as the black daughter of the white master.
I think another complex character that would have been interesting to see narrate would have been Belle's half brother - Lavania's husband. Can't recall his name at the moment.


Jennifer | 109 comments I also agree with enjoying the two perspectives. Lavinia was so desperate to have a loving home that at times I felt frustrated with her, maybe because she seemed naive.
Sarah - I believe you are referring to Marshall. I agree that would have really been an interesting perspective given the role he played in so much of the hurt of the story.


Esther (nyctale) | 107 comments I just finished it. I really like it.

The 2 narrators worked fine for me. I saw Belle's chapters' as a way to give background and behind the scene parts of to Lavinia's story.


message 15: by Sarah (last edited Jun 09, 2013 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 662 comments Jennifer wrote: "I also agree with enjoying the two perspectives. Lavinia was so desperate to have a loving home that at times I felt frustrated with her, maybe because she seemed naive.
Sarah - I believe you are ..."

But also he was really hurt as well. I think being raped really messed with him and also latching on to Marshall' s father's foreman as his influence and guide. His father was never around when he was growing up and his mother was a drug addict with no one around to protect. The one person he loves and wants to protect he ends up accidentally killing. I think another point to this book I thought might be is that we are all slaves wether it be slaves to our past, slave to a pedophile, slaves to drug and alcohol addiction, slaves to our abusive husband, slaves to our society and what is deemed the norm at that time and what society considers acceptable - i.e white supremacy, rich vs poor - clasism, slavery being acceptable.... We all are in chains and have to break them to be free


Jennifer | 109 comments Sarah wrote: "Jennifer wrote: "I also agree with enjoying the two perspectives. Lavinia was so desperate to have a loving home that at times I felt frustrated with her, maybe because she seemed naive.
Sarah - I..."


Very true about Marshall. They all had so many hardships to overcome. Really makes me think!


message 17: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Rosa | 6 comments Sarah wrote: "Jennifer wrote: "I also agree with enjoying the two perspectives. Lavinia was so desperate to have a loving home that at times I felt frustrated with her, maybe because she seemed naive.
Sarah - I..."


Great insight on the whole we are all slaves to something notion. I totally agree!


message 18: by Sarah (last edited Jun 11, 2013 12:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 662 comments page 107 "Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband.... Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets."

Why does the captain keep Belle's true identity from his wife and children? Do you think the truth would have been a relief to his family or torn them further apart? At what point does keeping this secret turn tragic?



Sarah | 662 comments Not getting a lot of discussion on this incredible book - o.k. I am trying here people.


Sarah | 662 comments Discuss the difference between slavery and indentured servitude.


message 21: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Rosa | 6 comments Sarah wrote: " page 107 "Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband.... Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets."

Why does the captain keep Belle's true identity from his wife and ..."


It's a tough call I think. As a reader, I wanted to shout out to everyone that they assumed wrong about their relationship such as the wife and the son, Marshall. The captain probably kept the secret because he was in denial about his wife knowing about his exploits. She knew something but it was just the wrong person. I think the truth would have neither been a relief or torn them further apart. I do think that it would have prevented Marshall from raping his own sister. He probably would have still hated her but a different kind of hate instead of calling her a whore all the time. But then again he was so messed up in the head and Rankin urged him on with his acts of violence that he might have still done that awful act to Belle. What do you think?


Jennifer | 109 comments I think that it is hard to say if the truth would have made things better or worse. It may have been just "different" dynamics. I forgot about Rankin to some extent because he is not discussed as much as other characters, but he does play an important role with Marshall. What if he had a better role model?


Chris Like some others, I had trouble putting this book down once I got going. Sorry if I'm going back to the earlier topics, but I just finished the book.

Regarding the 2 narrators: I definitely agree that Belle's pov was necessary to help the reader understand what was going on. Lavinia seemed so naive, and that carried on until the end of the book, so we weren't able to "learn" through her growth - we needed that other narrator.

I have to admit I struggled with Lavinia a bit - whether it was plausible for her to not get things to that degree, even as an adult. (I still enjoyed the book though)

Regarding the captain keeping Belle's paternity a secret: It seems to me that keeping secrets drove a lot of the tragedies in the novel. Marshall couldn't talk about what was happening to him, and that drove him to act out his rage; secrets were kept from Martha, she couldn't face things, and so turned to drugs and isolation; Belle didn't tell Lavinia about being raped by Marshall, so Lavinia misunderstood her and Will's relationship, and missed out on being with a man she loved; etc etc. All the secret-keeping really rings true to me, in terms of dysfunctional family dynamics. It seems the slaves discussed things more amongst themselves - perhaps that was necessary to their survival? Lavinia was kept outside of things a lot, although it seemed like they expected her to understand things without being told explicitly, which she rarely did. I don't know - what do others think about it?

Regarding the difference between slavery and indentured servitude: I think an indentured servant agreed to work off a debt for a specified period, often the cost of immigrating to the US. It was a way of getting more labour, often from Europe and the UK. In theory once the debt was paid off they were free. I think it got a bit murky in practice, which I'm not so sure about. In contrast, a slave was originally taken against his/her will, and owned outright, along with their offspring. I guess that is how Lavinia's family was able to travel to the US from Ireland, and how the Captain came to purchase her labour.

Great choice of a book!


message 24: by Sarah (last edited Jun 23, 2013 08:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah | 662 comments Marshall is a complicated character. At times he is kind and protective; other times he is a violent monster. What is the secret that Marshall is forced to keep? Is he to blame for what happened to Sally? Why do you think Marshall was loyal to Rankin, who was a conspirator with Mr. Waters?


Chris Sarah wrote: "Marshall is a complicated character. At times he is kind and protective; other times he is a violent monster. What is the secret that Marshall is forced to keep? Is he to blame for what happened to..."

You're so right, he's a complicated character. In my opinion, he was full of shame because of the molestation he experienced from Waters. I think, undealt with, that kind of pain is either acted out violently towards others, or inwardly on the self. I think Marshall had some of both going on, which fed the alcoholism, and was fed by the alcoholism (vicious circle). I think he teamed up with Rankin because the latter was someone who used power over others (slaves, women), which gave Marshall a vehicle for his own rage and shame. We don't really know much about Rankin's past, or why he behaved as he did (except of course, that he could). I don't think Marshall was a hateful person. I don't think he killed his sister intentionally. I think he turned the powerlessness he felt at the hands of Waters outward on those he could feel powerful over - little sister, women, slaves, etc. I think he probably loved his sister, Lavinia, even Beattie, but he couldn't process what had happened to him, so he acted out.


Leslie | 1 comments Sarah wrote: " page 107 "Mae knows that her eldest daughter consorts with my husband.... Almost from the beginning, I suspected their secrets."

Why does the captain keep Belle's true identity from his wife and ..."


I have NO BLASTED IDEA!! I feel like it would make so much more sense for him to tell her who Belle really is. I almost wonder if he didn't really realize how much the fact Martha thought he was cheating on her destroyed her emotionally. I don't know, that is the part of the book that drove me bonkers. The rest of it was beautifully written and made sense but that part I just don't get.


LauraJ (laurajpetri) | 18 comments I finished the last 30 pages of this yesterday morning. At first I didn't like it. I don't usually like first person perspectives and then I find this book switches between two. It seemed like Belle's perspective was just a silly or lame literary device so that the reader could know what Lavinia didn't. The chapters for Belle were quite short.
I also didn't like the lack of communication. "Why didn't the captain tell people about Belle" indeed. (Though probably because the wife already expressed dislike at the neighbor living in "ungodly" ways with his slaves.)
Just tell them Belle's your daughter. Just tell Lavinia you want to marry her Will. Just tell the captain the teacher is raping his son. Just tell the captain his son raped his daughter.

Besides that, I thought the book was good. The language style for each social class was very nicely done. It seemed also like Lavinia's speech patterns changed as she grew. (which they should but it's almost never shown in writing)

On the whole though, too many rapes. At least five people were raped in this book, some repeatedly.

I don't think I could ever recommend this to anyone.


Sarah | 662 comments Rape was common with slaves so probably not so inaccurate depiction of the time


Alana (alanasbooks) | 101 comments I'm only about 1/3 into this, so I will have to go back and read everyone's posts later, but I'm intrigued by the book, yet really concerned about the direction it's going. Curious to see how it turns out.


message 30: by Kate (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate | 16 comments I agree with LauraJ that the lack of communication among characters was incredibly frustrating. I just wanted to sit everyone down for a family meeting of sorts and explain what was going on and how people were actually related. I guess this mirrors real life, though, where everyone keeps secrets and only knows what others tell them.

Although there were rapes and other forms of abuse throughout the book, I didn't think it was too graphic. I agree with Sarah that it was probably an accurate portrayal of how woman and slaves were treated at the time, so I feel like it worked within the story. I didn't hesitate to recommend this book to my mom and her book club, as well as the book club I organize.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 101 comments I finished it last week and I think I was impressed with it mostly because while it deals with many topics I've been reading in other books, it manages to convey its message without sounding like an overdone Lifetime movie. I loved what was said about us all being a slave to something...and the lack of communication goes hand in hand with that. It's hard to break free of chains if those chains are never identified, by ourselves or someone else.

I don't get why the Captain wouldn't reveal Belle's identity, but then again, how many times do we make decisions that simply don't make sense? We don't know his reasons, but they probably made sense to him. Lavinia's misunderstanding about Belle made logical sense as well, for someone of her age and relative innocence. I was surprised that no one corrected her before this, though. If someone had corrected her ideas earlier, perhaps she might have viewed Will differently and held out for him? Maybe have had a different life entirely?


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The Kitchen House (other topics)

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