Friday, October 29, 2010

The Help

Book:  The Help
Author:  Kathryn Stockett
Like/Don't Like:  Liked (ish)

This is one of those books that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to reading.  I do this with books that are everywhere.  And this book is everywhere.  I see it and think, I'll get around to it eventually - when it's in paperback, but then never do because I get annoyed with seeing its cover in every display and that puts a bad connotation in my head and suddenly I have convinced myself that it's a horrible book and I'd be so dumb to waste my time on it.  I wasn't too that point with this book but it was inevitable.

But I did a preemptive strike and saved myself the trouble of hating it without reading it and just read Bronwyn's copy.  And I liked it, mostly.

It's set in Jackson, Miss. in the 1960s so obviously it's about racism and civil rights and all those things.  When I read about that time period I start feeling really punchy.  I have a hard time with people being dumb.  And I can't think of anything dumber than saying a person of a different color has to use a different drinking fountain because they have germs.  It makes me cringe.  It follows the stories of 3 women - two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and one white woman, Miss Skeeter.  Skeeter grew up in Jackson and was raised by a black maid, whom she loved.  When she returns from college and finds that her maid is no longer working at her house she starts to question the racial system she was brought up in.  This gets her talking to Aibileen and Minny - who are her friends' maids - and they start to write a tell-all book about what it's like for a black woman to work for a white family.

I felt it did a good job at conveying the very real fear black people lived in.  There were ample examples told in the book of beatins, lynchings, firings, and abuse.  And the story kept me going for quite a while.  Not having grown up in an age of rampant racial discrimination the whole thing is so foreign to me.  I felt like it was well told and thoughtful.

But I did have a few issues:  1.)  It could have been cut down.  I was really into at the beginning.  But the format - which switched between the points of view of 3 characters - is a pet peeve of mine unless done exceptionally well.  This was not.  It got a little long about 2/3 of the way through and I found myself wishing it would just end.  2.)  The author seemed to be on a mission to make sure we knew it was set in the sixties.  It was like there was a check list she was working off of, trying to get as mean signs of the decade in.  Tab - check.  Space race - check.  Pucci mini dresses, Kennedy assasination, hippies, freedome-riders, Rosa Parks - all of them checked off the list.  I know that they are meant to give an sense of the time but it just seemed labored and distracting.  Especially when I was already getting tired of the book.


Patti said...

I didn't like the way it ended. At all. The little girl in the book, Mae Mo, reminded me too much of a grand daughter of mine, and to see her upset made me upset. And I didn't think we needed the naked man in there.
I think I'd have been better off not to have read it.

Stephanie said...

I liked it (ish), too. After living for so long in the south, I was a little peeved at the way "rich white women" were portrayed - even in comparison to "rich white men." There are good and bad people everywhere, and to say that this is just a southern white woman thing really bothered me.

But I read it all the way through - and I liked it well enough that I want to read other things.

Rach said...

I liked the book, and the reason I liked it so much was because of the voices of the black women. I felt like I was sitting in one of the shotgun houses in Vicksburg, just listening to one of the ladies I knew there reminisce about their days in the '60s. I do remember that it got slow after a while, but I was satisfied with the book as a whole.

Karina & John Calderwood said...

I loved this book. However, I agree that it should have been cut down 2/3 into it. FOR SURE.