Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Help ~ Kathryn Stockett

I managed to read The Help back in September, back before things started to be due for my graduate classes, and I had a (now defunct) book club and an assignment (though I was allowed to just watch the movie) to motivate me.  Now the idea of reading a 400-page book while classes are going on, even a quick read like this, makes me want to start pulling my hair out.  But back in September I managed it, though not the review, so I'm playing catch-up now (it's my hope to also write a review of The Awakening before the end of my rapidly disappearing long weekend).  I can't promise a very thorough review since it's been two months, but here goes.

I liked it despite myself.  And despite itself.  I went into the reading experience with some other bloggers' thoughts in my head, most notably the opinion that Stockett would have achieved her aim better by putting together a real version of The Help, i.e. the real stories of real black maids as told in their real words, and also by not making a white character their savior.  And I still stand by those opinions.  But I liked it anyway.

Skeeter, as you may know, is a white native of Jackson, Mississippi, where the novel takes place.  She misses the black maid who raised her and flinches when her racist friends make racist comments but doesn't say anything.  She wants to be a writer, so she applies to a publishing firm in New York, and is told to submit a writing sample on something super-interesting and relevant, so she says Aha!  I will write about these black ladies because surely they want to help me!  And then after months of convincing them, she becomes a hero and runs away to New York and leaves them to their fates.  It makes me sad that she's the character I mention first in a novel that seems like it should be about black women, but really it's about a white lady helping black women (oooh, I wonder if that's what the title really means).  Oh, by the way, I don't like her very much.

I do like the maids, though, whose stories intersperse hers (though not often enough).  They were a joy to read about and are really what made the story.  While Skeeter is worrying about upsetting her mom and being fired from her job as editor of the Junior Racists Newsletter, Minny and Aibileen are living.  They support their friends and families, work harder than their employers could imagine, suffer real pain and worry, get dumped on regularly, and still manage to thrive.  They expose the truths of their employers, both good and bad, while not letting those truths get in the way of their own beings.  They are why I couldn't dislike this book.

I'm not going to ramble too much, but I'm going to direct you to the Reading Rambo's discussion of a short bit of the book because everything she says I agree with, and how often does that happen?  Not very.

As for recommendations, I don't know what to tell you.  It's an easy read and the writing's decent.  Not great, but decent.  I took it out of the library (a service I rarely utilize) and am happy I did, because I won't be reading this again.  If you want something quick and balanced between fluffy and really quite serious, this is a good choice.  If you're likely to vomit at the idea of somebody pooping in a pie, you might want to shy away.  If you're looking for a great idea of a project to work on, you might consider a factual collection of the stories of black maids in Civil Rights-era Jackson, Mississippi.  I know I'd read it.

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, I mostly agree with your assessment of the book, and yet for me, The Help mostly transcended its issues/problems and became a story that really resonated with me. Partly because I grew up as a midwesterner transplanted to MS at an early age. partly because I listened to the audio version of the book, which is hands-down the best audio production I've heard this side of Jim Dale's rendering of the Harry Potter books. Aibileen stole my heart and I kept thinking how hard I'd have to work to earn Minny's respect (but it would be totally worth it) and Celia was by far my favorite white woman in the book. But still there was something about this novel that spoke to me, and rather deeply at that. Do I wish it had been something more? Yeah, I really do. But I don't think it's meant to be a book about real issues any more than I think Nicholas Sparks writes about real romance.

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  2. I listened to the audio version of the book and can't imagine reading it after experiencing this with three incredible narrators (one of which, Minny, also played her in the film). It's a much better experience in audio and I loved it immensely in that form. I've skimmed through the book in the store and always put it down because I didn't know if I'd be able to read it the way it was written. If you get a chance to try it in audio, don't pass it up - it's much better that way.

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