I’m so proud of myself for actually getting some reading done before the schoolwork starts pouring in. Granted, I should be reading things like The Sound and the Fury instead of more recreational books, but oh well. Today’s challenge was the next Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick, Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, The Invention of Wings. It was only released last Tuesday, so I’m actually feeling really on top of this. And now for the bad news: I didn’t really like it.
I can’t say this book was the worst thing I’ve read recently, because there have been a few real bummers, but for me, it didn’t live up to the hype everyone was repeating.
Let me begin by saying that I’m so (insert adverbial expletive) tired of books being described as “sweeping,” “epic,” “powerful,” focused on “sisterhood,” “the power of friendship,” etc. It is, in fact, one of the giant flashing lights that goes off when I’m reading a blurb. It’s like a voice comes over a PA system and says, “STEP AWAY FROM THE BOOK. IT IS GOING TO DISAPPOINT YOU.” To be fair, sometimes the book in this situation actually lives up to its blurb. I can’t think of an instance, but I’m sure it’s happened.
When I received the copy of The Invention of Wings from my friend, it was on her recommendation that this was one of the best books she’s read in a long time. Like, singing praises and encouraging me to read it best books.
I say, “Meh.”
Essentially, the novel is the fictionalized story of Sarah Grimké (check out her Wikipedia page here) and her relationship with her personal slave in the 1800s. Sarah’s the stuttering daughter of the South who doesn’t believe in slavery, while Handful (or Hetty, as she’s “officially” named) is the spunky slave who believes in something more.
Now, I’m no expert on Grimké, so just a glance at the Wiki, plus a quick look over the notes that Kidd actually did research, impresses me. I usually think history is pretty good on its own and doesn’t need the additional characters or complicated storylines, but I respect Kidd for putting in time and working to make this novel what it is.
I’m just not the target group, apparently.
My promise when I began this blog was to be the Honest Reader and say things that no one else wants to say when they review a book. And after glancing at the Goodreads page, I think we really need someone to say it straight: it’s predictable. It’s not poorly written, but it’s not astonishing. It just sort of is.
I guess I was just underwhelmed the whole way through. There were moments I thought I might be starting to care, but then the storytelling felt so slow that I just sort of stalled and gave up having an emotional attachment to anyone. And yes, I know that was kind of the point in Sarah’s chapters (because the book also switches POV every other chapter between Sarah and Handful) because she’s struggling with finding her voice (literally and figuratively). But my goodness, it slowed me down.
My biggest disappointment was that I felt Handful didn’t share the novel equally. I understand that Grimké is a historical figure and actually had lots of history to be shared, but this is one instance when I wanted it to be epic. If we’re going to say that this is a “sweeping” novel, let’s make it sweep, okay? I wanted more Handful because that was the compelling part of the story. And she’s the character Kidd invented. Theoretically, she should have had just as big a scope as Sarah did. But, whether it’s true or not, it felt like Handful was getting the short end of the stick.
I just am having a hard time understanding how so many people are saying that this is the book that has changed their lives and that it’s the best book and blah blah blah. It’s a good book. It’s a nice look at historical figures in the abolition movement in the US. It’s just not the stunning, incredible, heart-wrenching, life-altering novel I was told it would be. At least, not for me. But hey, maybe you’ll love it and come back and tell me I’m crazy. And that’s okay with me.
Now, if you want a really powerful book that I thought was both beautifully written and powerful (ugh, it kills me to use those words, but I’m trying to play fair), I’d recommend Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. THAT is a powerful book. It’s set in Chechnya between 1994 and 2004 and if you don’t cry for most of it, you can’t be human. Or maybe you just loved The Invention of Wings. Which is fine.
So in conclusion, The Invention of Wings, the sweeping fictional epic of Sarah Grimké, was mediocre. Not bad, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth rushing out right now to buy it in hardcover. Maybe wait for the library. Or paperback. Or your friend to loan it to you so you can return it with a (falsely or otherwise) positive review. Because that’s what I’m about to do.