So here is a downside of e-readers. Remember on Saturday night when I thought I was 80% of the way through this book? It was more like 95% of the way through the actual novel, and the rest of the volume of the “book” was a very long discussion guide, a very long interview with the author, and an obscenely long series of notes written by Oprah herself. Also a somewhat long but useful Afterward in which Kidd details where she diverged from the historical record in the interests of making a better story. I’ll let you decide for yourself what of these extras I read, and what of them I elected to ignore.
I found The Invention of Wings to be perfectly organized to appeal to a reader of my demographic: a middle-aged, professional, liberal female with a complicated relationship with organized religion and her parents. And while I did enjoy this book—I found Kidd’s writing style unobtrusive, the characters compelling and well-drawn (the two narrators for sure, and some of the less central characters as well), the setting very vivid—Kidd definitely did her homework on that. I did my due diligence with the historical figures and learned about Denmark Vessey and Lucretia Mott and Sarah Grimké and her sister Angelina. The Grimké sisters were the first women who spoke out against slavery and for women’s rights. The male leaders of the abolition movement wanted them to stop speaking out for women during their lectures because they felt it was confusing things. They did not stop. I initially found it hard to believe that women living in the early nineteenth century would be so strong and confident, but then it occurred to me that there had to be a first one of us to step up and speak out for more equal treatment for women. The sisters may have been depicted as a bit too modern in some ways, but I can’t think of any specific examples from the text to back that up, and I am not going to go looking through an e-book to find some.
Handful and her mother Charlotte are as strong as the Grimkés, though they use their strength for more personal things than Sarah and Nina do. You know, surviving a life of slavery. Were this story to take place in the twenty-first century, the Grimkés would have what we’ve come to call “First World Problems.” You know, their dad won’t let them go to law school, they have to give up all their fancy clothes to become Quakers. I’m not saying they aren’t real problems. I’m saying they aren’t life and death and being owned by another human being problems. Charlotte and Handful are smart women, and they have their own ways of resisting. They, too, can be seen as pioneers: if it weren’t for the little rebellions of slaves like them there’s a good chance the big rebellions would never have come about later on.
Okay, I think I’m going to call it quits for tonight. I did enjoy this book and I think that it is worth reading. I don’t know if it’s going to be a book that sticks with me as the years go by like I know The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay will, but it’s probably one of the best Oprah books I’ve read, and I’ve read a fair number of them.