Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Our Kind," by Kate Walbert

I am increasingly convinced that Kate Walbert is an exceptional writer of fiction. I wrote admiringly about two of her novels: “A Short History of Women” on 6/13/12 and “The Gardens of Kyoto” just a few days ago on 7/13/13. “Our Kind: A Novel in Stories” (Scribner, 2004) is also astoundingly well written. The interrelated stories are about a group of women living in a small town that could be anywhere in the U.S.A., over a period of time roughly the second half of the twentieth century. The specific times are vague, but these are women born about 1930, by my calculations. The book seems to embody some of the assertions of Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” (1963), the early feminist book about how the majority of women were staying at home as they were “supposed to” and quietly going a little crazy, wondering why raising children and running a home just wasn’t fulfilling enough. The women in “Our Kind” don’t explicitly talk about such feelings, except in a late chapter when Viv remembers how as a scholarship girl at a Seven Sisters college, she was encouraged by an admired professor to go on for graduate school, but gave it all up to get married. The women in general have been happy at times, but their husbands often leave or die, and their children move on, and then they wonder what to do next. Their greatest comfort seems to be each other’s company. This book is both somewhat hazy about exact dates and plots, and very concrete and thus evocative of the lives of these women. Happiness and sadness are interwoven, as the women get older, lose family, lose their health, drink too much, in some cases see their children struggle and even die, yet the women keep on, always keep on. To me this is a very sad novel about the waste of so much talent and energy, but also a positive novel about the power of female friendship and support of each other. Walbert is so insightful about women’s lives, yet without being didactic. A lovely, wistful book that thoroughly captivated me. Do put Kate Walbert's fiction on your "must-read" list.

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