The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue
The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue was not what I was expecting. The cover shows a bunch of young women having a grand old time eating and laughing. But the book is much more about tears than laughter.
The goddesses of Kitchen Avenue are four in number. There is Roberta, the new widow, who can’t seem to make it without her Edgar, Shannelle, the young wife and aspiring writer, whose marriage is troubled by her personal goals, and Jade, the divorcée whose ex is in prison. Though he’s a liar and a user, she can’t forget him or stop loving him. And then there’s Trudy.
Trudy’s life is in flux as well. Rick, her husband of 24 years has left her for another woman – an older, plainer, less accomplished woman. Trudy is angry and bitter because she never saw Rick’s betrayal until it hit her full on. She thought they had a good marriage. She thought Rick was wonderful – a good husband, a tender lover, a loving father, and a doting grandfather. And now he’s living across town, having sex with his new honey, and she’s left trying to figure out just exactly what she’s left with. Who is Trudy, and what does she want out of life?
On an objective level, Samuel’s writing is extremely fine. As usual she pulls out all the stops to make this book a fully tactile eperience. Sights, sounds, smells, touches, murmurs, whispers, the cool condensation of water on a warm window pane – it’s all there. Her words are well chosen and evocative. The emotions are there too, and the reader would have to be dead not to feel the agony of betrayal, the bitterness of humiliation, and the frustration of goals long neglected or denied. The book’s pacing is leisurely, and Samuel is able to take all of her characters on a developmental arc, chronicling their daily joys and sorrows and detailing the caring and supportive relationships that grow between these women.
And yet, at the end of this reading journey, I felt…well, annoyed. Unmoved. Decidely irritated. Samuel’s writing is strong, but her content left me cold.
Most irritating was the way the story of Rick’s adultery unfolded. Rick is an important secondary character, and he is not the villain of this piece. On the contrary, he’s very sympathetic. He was a good husband, a good man, an honest man, a hard worker. So it seems extremely odd that he felt he had to go off and explore his inner bastard. It’s, quite frankly, out of character. To make sure Rick stays sympathetic, we see how torn up he is about his relationship with the honey. He mopes, he hangs his head, and he’s lonely. He wants to get a cat. Besides completely emasculating him as a character, Rick’s behavior made me want to call up 1-800-GET-A-%$#@&-THERAPIST on his behalf. Please, please, Rick, tell the counselor all about it because it’s not particularly interesting. No one forced you to unzip, and no one is forcing you to keep on unzipping. If you don’t like what your extramarital affair is doing to your marriage, feel free to stop any time.
Since the story is told from Trudy’s first-person point of view, the situation doesn’t become clearer until rather late in the story. And by that time I wanted to wash my hands of Trudy too. One particular thing she did was especially distasteful and, in my opinion, ill advised, but it’s presented as an empowering experience that revitalizes her. Also, she is such an Earth Mother. Incense, the goddesses, yoga, meditation, candles, natural healing, essential oils, Enya – she’s constantly doing some new age ritual to cleanse the spirit and reaffirm her womanhood.
The relationships between Trudy, Jade, Shannelle, and Roberta seemed highly idealized. There is never a cross word between them; they are there for their sisters, whatever the hour. No one gossips, or gets impatient or PMS-sy. They are fully supportive of each other, and dedicated to making each other’s dreams a reality. When Jade decides to take up boxing as a sport, everyone thinks it’s a great idea – even though it’s a violent sport and she is fairly regularly bludgeoned in the ring. Jade’s chapters are headlined with quotes about women’s boxing and how empowering it is, and so it seems almost anti-female to wonder why anyone would want to beat up another person for fun. But that thought did actually cross my mind.
The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue was ultimately a very frustrating read. I like Samuel’s writing, but the adultery was extremely depressing and the message of female empowerment was about as subtle as a neon sign. At hardcover prices, my advice would be to skip this one, and reread No Place like Home or In the Midnight Rain again instead. Both of those are on my keeper shelf; this one will not be joining them.