Some years back, when I first read The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I remember thinking I wanted to be able to do with words what this author had done, and that is construct a compelling story with the perfect mix of simplicity and complexity such that people who read what I wrote would not soon forget it. It wasn’t so much the plot that wowed me as much as it was the way in which it was delivered to me.
A few years after that, when The Mermaid Chair came out, also by Sue Monk Kidd, several people whose opinions matter greatly to me said it was a different kind of book, not one that they loved, and that I probably wouldn’t find the magic in it that I did with Bees. I actually chose NOT to read Mermaid for that very reason: because I didn’t want to mess with the echoes of Bees still swirling in my head. So naturally, when The Invention of Wings released, I was eager, anxious, and hopeful. Would it take me away to literary wonderland as Bees did?
The answer to that is a resounding yes.
When a book hits my sweet spot, it’s usually hard to describe in concrete details how. That kind of book somehow beautifully assaults my senses, viciously yanks on the virtues I hold most dear – like justice and fidelity and sacrificial love – and plants me as firmly in its setting and culture as if I had time-travelled there. It haunts me when I am not reading it and woos me when I am. The characters’ voices linger in my mind and their sorrows and joys feel like my own. A book that hits my sweet spot doesn’t spoon-feed the ending; it suggests the denouement in a way that lets me feel like there are more pages in the book; I just don’t have access to them. The story is not over, and I am not expected to feel like it is.
The story is told in two points of view, that of a Southern slave owner’s daughter and the other, the slave she grows up with. The time of the tale is well before the Civil War. The daughter grows up with a distaste for slave ownership and the will to do what she can to see it end. Here are some of my favorite lines:
“History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
“We ‘re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.”
“The sorry truth is you can walk your feet to blisters, walk till kingdom-come, and you never will outpace your grief.”
“Sarah was up in her room with her heart broke so bad, Binah said you could hear it jangle when she walked.”
Your heart will bleed reading this book, but it will heal in a way that allows you to remember why you loved it. You’ll be reminded why slavery is one of the ugliest ideas ever, and you’ll be glad there were brave souls who stood up in protest.