historical fiction

Review: 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

Historical fiction is my natural habitat. I write it for a living, and I read it constantly. I know what went into the writing of this novel and I admire the way the author brought Charleston to life. The history itself, the story of the Grimke sisters and their dedication to abolition and women’s rights, is enthralling stuff.

Sue Monk Kidd can write a beautiful sentence, she can construct a paragraph and a scene and put it all together. So all the pieces are there, but the novel failed to come together for me. The problem for me was mostly about mechanics, pacing and focus.

Kidd seems to never really decide what this novel is about. If it’s about the Grimke sisters and their mission to educate the country and bring about justice, then it takes far too long to get off the ground. A full half of the novel takes place before they really get started. If it’s about Handful, then her story is unbalanced and piecemeal. Pacing is crucial to a story like this, and the pacing was off.

My strong impression is that Kidd would have been better able to find a rhythm if she had written this in third person. She never really gets her feet on the ground writing as Sarah or as Handful; approaching the story in third person would have given her more perspective and focused the narrative.

A number of times I felt as if we were finally shifting up out of first gear only to fall back again into a putter. It’s unfortunate, because the material is very rich and full of promise.

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writing prompt

I came across this today on a website dedicated to the study of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in American culture. It strikes me as the beginning (or the end) of an interesting bit of historical fiction, the allusion to Topsy aside.

My first impulse is to spend some time trying to find out more about this Edna Wilson (was this psychosis, or something less organic?), but in the spirit of sticking to business (that is, I’ve started the sequel to The Gilded Hour) I’m sending it out into the world in the hope that somebody else will be interested enough to do that.

The New York Times
8 May 1925

Sent Back to Bedford as a “White Topsy”

Woman Accused of Theft, After Breaking Parole, Collapses When Plea Is Denied.

  When Edna Wilson, called by the police “the beloved thief,” came before Judge Collins for sentence in Special Sessions yesterday, she collapsed as soon as she was ordered back to Bedford Reformatory, from which she had broken her parole.

“Don’t send me back to that place. Don’t send me back to Bedford,” she screamed. She was carried from the court room by attendants.

Judge Collins held that despite the girl’s plea not to be returned to the institution she must be sent back for violation of her parole. He said he would extend extreme clemency in pronouncing judgment relative to the latest charge against her, explaining that he would withhold sentence pending her good behavior for the remaining sixteen months she must serve at the reformatory.

The girl’s latest escapade, for which she came up for sentence yesterday, was the theft on March 29 of a coat valued at $2,900 and various other articles of clothing and jewelry from Mrs. Pearl Reed Myers of 680 Riverside Drive, wife of a tobacco manufacturer. The girl had posed to Mrs. Myers as “Elsie Robinson,” a newspaper writer, and she was invited to spend the night at the Myers home. Next morning the girl had disappeared with the valuables. She was soon arrested and indicted.

In pronouncing sentence the Judge referred to her as “a white Topsy,” saying she was a girl who apparently never could resist temptation.

“She just can’t stop stealing,” said the Judge. “She gets into the good graces of respectable people and then robs them. Although better educated than was the famous character of Mrs. Stowe, nevertheless she is a white Topsy.”