Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fiction: The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue

Barbara Samuel's enjoyable novel, The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, weaves together the lives of four very different women, each grappling with issues of career, love, and life. The women, all neighbors on a quiet street in Pueblo, Colorado, grow to be each other's friends and supporters as their lives intersect.

Trudy, the main narrator of the novel, is struggling to put her life back together and rediscover her identity after learning that her husband of twenty-plus years is having an affair. Her next-door neighbor, Roberta, has just lost her beloved husband after sixty-two years of marriage. Roberta's beautiful granddaughter, Jade, turns to boxing as a release from conflicting emotions after divorcing her con-man husband. Shannelle,a young mother and aspiring writer, lives across the street and is trapped between her dreams and financial reality.

Samuel uses unique approaches to invite the reader into each woman's life. She alternates between the four women's perspectives in separate chapters. Roberta's story is told mainly through letters she writes to her sister, and we view Shannelle's struggles through the e-mails she sends to her writing mentor. Trudy's and Jade's voices are heard through more traditional first-person narration. Each chapter is headed by quotes that reflect that character's values: inspirational quotes from Shannelle's writing wall, Roberta's favorite bible passages, facts about women's boxing from Jade, and Trudy's excerpts of Spanish poetry and references to mythical goddesses. While I enjoyed the constant change of perspective, readers who prefer a more traditional narrative may find it a bit distracting.

The interwoven stories and happy endings have an idealistic tendency, but Samuel's warm, well-drawn characterizations made the women seem real. By the end of the book, I felt like the characters were familiar friends and was pleased to see them learn, grow, and unravel the knots of their troubles in their own unique ways. I happen to like happy endings.

(NOTE: My only annoyance with the book was that the cover photo of five same-age thin, white women sharing dessert had absolutely no relevance to the varied ages and races of the characters in the novel.)

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