Our Kind Summary
As young women, the characters in Our Kind disappoint their teachers and forsake their talents, dropping out of graduate studies to fulfill the roles society expects of women. Their innocence and lack of skill to please their mates bring out criticism and cruelty—even, in one case, on the wedding night. While their husbands are absent at work, these women live empty, lonely lives, raising children practically by themselves. Once divorced, with their children gone, it is the women who stay together as friends. In flashes of memories, they reminisce about their dreams of romance, most of which turned into traumatic and humiliating experiences. Comparing notes, only now do they find how similar their lives have been, filled with disappointment and hurt. Finally free, they understand one another and share what is left of their lives, doing what they choose although still living far removed from their once-innocent dreams of the lives they hoped to have.
Our Kind is Kate Walbert's third novel. It consists of ten stories, each of which could be published separately. The stories are presented in vibrant, beautiful flashes of memory from different stages in the lives of women who came of age in the 1950's. This is the generation of Walbert's mother, to whom this book is dedicated. In this, like in Walbert's previous books, a story was first published in The Paris Review and then used to develop a whole novel for and about women. Interesting and educational, the stories are not didactic or moralizing, because the prose is mannered and detached. It sparks flashbacks, explosions of memories and scenes from lives past. At the same time, Walbert's talent for storytelling keeps the story thread on at least two, constantly intertwined, levels, “then and now,” offering depth and new perspectives.
The writing is loaded with effervescent life details that could easily be missed if the stories are not carefully read. The fluffy, informal language also makes the work an attractive and easy read. The narrative also leaves much to the imagination, with its unfinished sentences and things unsaid. It motivates one to read actively and alertly to capture all the nuances. The writing almost engages the reader and writer in a dialogue. By virtually becoming part of the group and entering the scene, the reader will understand the double meanings, symbols, and foreshadowing. Walbert chooses to deliver her message indirectly, thus allowing her characters and readers to make their own decisions.
Walbert shows respect (although it is coated with mild humor) for strong women. For example, Grandmother Nettle dares to stand up to President Roosevelt, demanding that he act as a gentleman. With an O. Henry-esque touch, and almost en passant, Walbert depicts young women, who lack mothers and family tradition to fall back upon, teaching their babies to be strong like aviator Amelia Earhart and orderly like style guru Martha Stewart.
In the first story, “The Intervention,” the whole group of women friends is gathered around Canoe's swimming pool to plan a joint action to save their idol, a man who is part of their pasts and who replaces their husbands and sons, for he has always been there for them. In the end, they find out, it is they who need to be saved. He has been taking care of himself—at their cost—all along.
In “Esther's Walter” a woman, once talented and attractive, has married a man without looks or money. After years of a childless marriage, she becomes a widow. This is the only story in which love is not ridiculed. Rather, it tells of a lifelong commitment. The family house, symbol of Esther and Walter's marriage, was once beautiful enough to attract Andrew Wyeth for some sketches. Now it is dilapidated and disintegrating. On the anniversary of Walter's death, Esther invites friends for a celebration. The atmosphere is ghostly—even the dogs are hungry and skinny as skeletons. Esther suggests a toast, then dramatically fixing her eyes on...
(The entire section is 1,469 words.)