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Fixed on Fiction

The Invention of Wings

For our May meeting, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd-

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
–Summary courtesy of Goodreads.

Interestingly, our thumbs up/down votes were evenly distributed across the group with 2 thumbs up, 2 thumbs down, and 2 so-so votes. Here are some of the initial thoughts readers shared while explaining their votes:

  • I liked her writing but I wasn’t enthusiastic about the story. I don’t like fictionalizing real people.
  • I wasn’t really into this until I did some research and discovered the Grimke sisters were real. That helped me appreciate the story more. I was disappointed that Handful wasn’t really well developed and her relationship with Sarah wasn’t further explored.
  • Thumbs up! We can’t know what the inner thoughts were of these people, but it represents women fighting on multiple fronts.
  • Thumbs down. There was nothing new here about slavery, it was very cliché. I didn’t think it was very well written and I was frustrated that Sarah didn’t stick to anything: lawyer, Quaker, women’s rights, etc. I did admire the abolitionist part. But a lot of the slave characters weren’t fully developed.

We continued by discussing the fact that no one in our group had ever heard of the Grimke sisters before. This led to a conversation about women’s achievements in history have perhaps been overlooked.

  • These women (the Grimke sisters) were published authors and some of the first feminists in our country. How is it that we have never heard of them?

This led to a conversation about women’s rights in present day, in which someone noted an interview with Sheryl Sandberg where she refused to answer a question about domestic help in her home, claiming a man wouldn’t be asked the same thing. Another book group member referenced a survey where the majority of men polled said they wouldn’t mind a female president but still believed wives shouldn’t earn more than their husbands.

Additionally, we also discussed the close relationship between the Grimke sisters- how Sarah raised Nina and they lived together throughout adulthood. Was this still common practice today?

  • I think you still see older siblings raising younger ones in larger families…but larger families are not as common nowadays.

We tied this point back to our prior discussion of women’s rights in present day. Women having children later in life (which may lead to having a smaller family), the expectation to return to work vs. stay home, etc.

Additionally, we also discussed other titles that we were reading outside of book group:


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