Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Good, but not fantastic, historical fiction. Certainly, the topic of slavery is dramatic and powerful ... And Sue Monk Kidd weaves an interesting tale with the dual narratives of Sarah Grimke, a real historical figure, and Handful, an invented character. In some ways, however, the story lacked the emotional punch I expected it to have, given the topic. The novel, at least for me, was compelling at some points and less so at others. I felt the ending was somewhat abrupt and didn't provide readers with the full emotional release that seemed warranted. The plot builds up to a crescendo... And then we aren't quite sure what happens. Perhaps it shouldn't matter... the main characters have all invented their wings and "flown," metaphorically... But I admit that I wouldn't have minded an epilogue giving me a few more details. Nevertheless, this a highly readable and well-researched novel, and I do think this is Kidd's strongest, best written work of fiction to date.

I will say, as an historian, I'm happy if the novel sheds some light on this time period and the issues of slavery and abolition, which are all too often skimmed over in primary and secondary curricula in our country. If many readers have never read detailed accounts of the horrors of slavery or know very little about the abolition movement (and women's rights movement)--as some reviews on Goodreads seem to indicate--that doesn't speak well of how our education system has treated these significant topics in American history.


  1. In a women's studies course in the 1970s, I read some of the Grimke's sisters writings so I was intrigued by a novel about them. I think that Monk did a good job of showing how Southern culture imprisoned Sarah intellectually, as well as conveying the brutality of slavery though what happened to Handful and her mother.

    The one thing that did not work in the plot, in my view, was the connection of Handful to Denmark Vesey, although I can understand why Monk tried it. The descriptions of the slave rebellion all seemed very dry to me.

    After finishing the book, I searched online and discovered something in the story of the Grimke sisters that would have been an interesting addition to the plot. Apparently their brother Henry had two sons with a slave woman. After the war, Sara and Angelina took their nephews into their home, and the young men went to Harvard and had professional careers. I think that would have been an interesting addition to the story – or perhaps a new book by someone else.

  2. I agree that the Vesey sub-plot was problematic... It did not come alive for me. Yeah, the nephews--that seems like it would have been such an interesting element!