Sunday, January 05, 2014

Our Kind by Kate Walbert

I have often mentioned my “Rule of 50” in this blog, and Kate Walbert’s Our Kind is a perfect example of how well that rule works.  I read this book in 2007 and barely got passed the first story.  My Page-a-Day Calendar recently featured this novel told in a collection of vignettes, so I decided to give it another try.  A caterpillar has evolved into a magnificent butterfly.

According to her website, Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan, and Pennsylvania, among other places.  She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize.  Our Kind was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004.  She also wrote The Gardens of Kyoto, which won awards as well.  Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories.

This collection relates the stories of about 9 women loosely connected by social class, club membership, and the fact they had all lost their husbands – mostly to divorce.  As Walbert writes, “Here was the dawn of Something Big, Canoe said, a shifting of the paradigm.  A creative burst!  You couldn’t not read about it: women in their middle years coming into their own, meeting second husbands, starting businesses, traveling around the globe.  We could do any damn thing we liked, Canoe said, unfettered as we were, and we would, we knew, just as soon as we thought what” (160).

So their days revolve around lunches at the club, tennis, visiting a sick friend in a nursing home, or organizing an intervention for an alcoholic friend.  Set in the 60s and 70s, they smoke and drink with elegance.  The women have an entire array of problems and difficulties, but these women are strong – for the most part – and determined to live the remainder of their lives to the fullest extent possible.

Kate Walbert
While Walbert’s style is a bit peculiar – it resembles a series of thoughts linked to lead the reader to an idea the narrator seeks.  For example, Walbert writes, “He was someone we loved.  Someone we could not help but love.  A colleague of our ex-husbands, a past encounter.  We had known Him since before we were we, from our first weeks in this town, early summers.  We loved His hair.  Golden.  The color of that movie actor’s hair, the famous one.  Sometimes we caught just the gleam of it through the windshield of his BMW as He drove by.  Sporty.  Waving.  Green metallic, leather interior” (3-4).  However, I stuck with it this time, and easily began to slide along with the narrator. 

Kate Walbert’s Our Kind is a wonderful story of women taking control of their lives and enjoying themselves and each other.  Mimi, Esther, Suzie, Viv, Canoe, Judy, Bambi, Cookie, Louise, and Barbara are all interesting, introspective women who hold their own in this complicated dance of mid-life.  5 stars.

--Chiron, 1/5/14

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