I just finished listening to Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Invention of Wings. When I chose it as my “Audible” selection for January, I had no idea about its subject matter. I knew only that I love just about anything Kidd writes. She can spin a fine yarn (Secret Life of Bees, for example) and is unafraid to explore topics relating to women, religion, and justice.
In the case of The Invention of Wings, Kidd made a foray into historical fiction, and—joy!—she chose as her protagonist a historical woman I had “met” in my gender studies at UTD: Sarah Grimke. Grimke was a belle living on a Charleston plantation in the 18th century. But she ended up doing some radical stuff for a woman of any era, but especially for her own. She never married. She became a Quaker. She spoke publicly to men and women. She was a shameless opponent of slavery. And she advocated for equality that included both slaves and women. (Abolitionists did not always believe in equality; sometimes they were just against cruelty.)
The reader (listener) sees life from alternating points of view—that of Sarah and of the slave on her family’s planation that she tried unsuccessfully to set free in her youth. Kidd does a brilliant job of showing how Sarah is sometimes blind to her own privilege, a perspective that is especially relevant since Ferguson.
An unexpected but welcome bonus happened at the end of the novel when the narrator’s voice changed, and sure enough, Kidd herself made an appearance. The author explained how she chose her subject and talked about what facts she altered in her story and why. Part of what inspired her was Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party exhibit in Brooklyn, which I only recently learned about (my bad!) while visiting the National Museum for Women in the Arts to see its fabulous exhibit about the Virgin Mary. (I have added Chicago’s exhibit to my bucket list, especially after learning that it includes Christine de Pizan.)
I give The Invention of Wings five stars out of five. Great story telling. A wonderful subject. And a book with the potential to make the world a better place.