I didn’t realize when I checked out these two books from the library how both plots focus on the theme of captivity and what it takes to be freed.
Sue Monk Kidd’s latest—The Invention of Wings—is a novelized account of the life of Sarah Grimke, one of America’s first female abolitionists and one of the country’s first feminist writers. Told through the voices of Sarah and Handful, the slave given to Sarah on her twelfth birthday (against her most fervent wishes), The Invention of Wings explores the horror of slavery, the immutability of societal structure, and the changes that can be forced by the determination of even a few relentless individuals.
Care to read more about the remarkable Grimke family right now? Sarah and her fearless sister Angelina were featured in a recent PBS documentary and they both are profiled in the ReadTheSpirit Interfaith Peacemakers project.
Room, by Emma Donoghue, is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, born in captivity to a mother kidnapped from her college campus some seven years prior to the book’s opening. Room is all Jack has known; through his mother’s inventiveness, love, and determination to normalize their captivity, Room is home.
To the rest of us, the horror of their situation is made all the more so by virtue of Jack’s matter-of-fact delivery. For instance, Jack’s and Ma’s after-nap activity is a game called “Scream” where they climb up on their only table and “shout holler howl yowl shriek screech scream the loudest possible.” Jack doesn’t wonder why Scream is not a Saturday or Sunday game; the rest of us don’t have to. Through Donoghue’s skillful invention, Jack describes their lives in such detail that I found myself getting up from my chair and walking around every few chapters just to loosen the bonds of his narration.
Each book builds to the protagonists’ eventual freedom: Handful as a stowaway on a ship leaving Charleston, Room’s residents in a desperate plan that hinges completely on Jack’s ability to remain “scave” (scared but brave). Handful’s fate is left to the reader’s imagination. Freedom for Jack and Ma is not synonymous with liberation. Ma’s prison had all the comforting contours of home to Jack; what Ma fled, Jack longs to revisit. One single line launched early in the novel lands with stunning impact at the end. Was it serendipity or had Donoghue planned from the start to reinsert this line as she brings the book to a close? This country still feels reverberations of the slavery depicted by Sue Monk Kidd. Given the discovery just last year of three Ohio women held in captivity for a decade, one wishes in vain that the horror depicted in Emma Donoghue’s Room, were only the stuff of fiction.