Saturday, November 26, 2011
The Help ~ Kathryn Stockett
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.