Saturday, September 18, 2010
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
And I can't help myself. I look at her head on. Cause that's one a the stupidest questions I ever heard."-A conversation between Skeeter and Aibileen, The Help
Let's be frank shall we? This book is exactly the opposite of what I usually read. I'm much more likely to journey into the world of crime with Kinsey Millhone and Kay Scarpetta than I am to take a bivouack in the deep south. However, I could not escape the buzz surrounding The Help and like a cat being dragged to a bath, I decided to try and read it...I couldn't put it down.
The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi (I still sing "M I double S I double S I double P P I to remember the state's spelling) during the early 1960s and encompasses the lives of African American maids and the women they work for. There are three narrators. The first is Aibileen, a middle aged maid who acts as mother to her employer's children. Then there is Minny, a maid who has been fired from every job she's ever had. Finally, there is Skeeter, a 23 year old white girl who doesn't know what to do with her life. I have read books with multiple narrators before, but never seen it done well. Luckily, Stockett is able to find three unique voices in her protagonists and effortlessly keeps the book running like a well-oiled machine.
Basically, the book addresses the racial tensions in Jackson and Skeeter's attempt to give the maids of the city a voice in a world that has gone deaf. Stockett shows the ugliness of racism without being preachy or self-righteous. In her notes on the text, Stockett reveals that her own family had a black maid when she was growing up. The tales of what happens to the maids of Jackson are a far cry from the jovial slaves of "Gone with the Wind" who couldn't have been more pleased to be the property of whites. The women are treated like trash and they rarely like their employers. Fortunately, Skeeter helps give the maids justice and their white employers what's been coming to them for a long time.
Of all the characters, I associated the most with Skeeter. A year apart in age, Skeeter and I both live with our parents, are single, and hope to be writers. We're also trying to find ourselves. I hope I'm half as lucky as Skeeter is in pursuing her goals.
There were numerous times, especially during the Minny sections, where I had to put down the book and laugh out loud. Then there were times I was so angry I could scream and so sad I could cry. It all sounds cliche here, but the book truly moved me. The last sentence of the book, which I won't spoil here, really resonated with me and I find myself running the line through my head often. Hopefully you'll keep it in mind as well.
There's no word yet if there will be a sequel to The Help. Stockett says she will write another book, but considering it took her four years to write this one, we will all have to be patient. In the mean time, grab a copy of The Help, and pour yourself a glass of sweet tea. Just be sure to inspect your chocolate pie closely before eating.