Barbara Clarke opens her memoir, The Red Kitchen, with a frightening childhood recollection. The same day her mother painted their kitchen a brilliant red, she witnessed an alarming argument between her parents during which her mother held a knife to her father’s throat.
Memoirs have always appealed to me as a reader since they provide an opportunity to learn about someone else’s life. From reading The Red Kitchen, it’s apparent Clarke was not happy for most of hers. As a child she saw and felt the tension in her parents’ marriage. She felt henpecked and marginalized by her mother, who seemed to favor her older brother, Bud. Clarke’s relationship with her relatives was fraught with issues, and she never felt accepted.
Even as an adult, the author felt compelled to act a certain way because it was expected. She dropped out of college to marry and supported her husband’s education. I think she did find happiness as a mother while being estranged from her own parents. However, they assisted her quite a bit after her first divorce.
Periodically, while reading, I was perplexed about the direction of the book. Clarke has multiple layers and at certain junctures I pondered which theme she was pursuing. Eventually, after a cathartic trip to Africa and the death of her father, the author divulges a major revelation, one I was not surprised to read since she had made allusions to it in earlier chapters.
Clarke’s memoir contains a significant message: Take charge of your own life—it’s not too late. I think she spent a large portion of her life dissatisfied but did not quite have the temerity nor confidence to make the necessary changes. Her story can be an inspiration to other women to live their best lives within their own convictions.