In her quirky debut memoir, Smith uses her evolving hairstyles as an extended metaphor for navigating her 38-year marriage.
Smith says that her most visceral girlhood memories began in a chair as her mother, a hairdresser “notorious for being heavy-handed,” used a hot comb on her hair. Her mother coined the term “kitchen” to describe the thick, textured hair at the nape of the neck that the author saw as a tender spot where curls, kinks and tangles “came together to irritate me.” In this book of friendly reminiscences and advice, Smith draws parallels between keeping her “kitchen” smooth and dealing with the essential although difficult areas of her relationship, such as honest communication and unconditional love. Keep these in top shape, and the rest of the relationship will fall into place, her argument goes, just as well-maintained hair does. Similar analogies—involving the perm, the cornrow, the weave, the Afro and the wig—appear in each of the book’s short chapters. Such parallels work well when the book is dealing with universal problems such as the annoyance of a knot of hair. They become harder to follow, however, when they involve topics that require more explanation, such as achieving the Jheri curl hairstyle that typically involves the use of a chemical “activator,” which the book relates to the need to keep romance active in a marriage. Some help comes, however, from the appealing black-and-white drawings that show the styles the text discusses. Other strengths of the book include its spare writing style and the simplicity of its concept—it doesn’t stray or reach beyond its initial promise. The descriptions of marital conflicts and breakthroughs, however, tend to lack detail, which limits the reader’s ability to identify with them. Any memoir of a marriage needs to respect the confidentiality of that relationship, and this one appears to do that. A few more intimate stories, however, might have added another dimension to the book and made it easier to see the practical applications of its message.
An innovative and endearing, if often superficial, story of love and hair.