Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This book is an easy read dealing with a difficult topic in a light way. Skeeter, a Southern debutante in 1962 Mississippi, comes home from college and wants more out of life than getting married and being a member of the Junior League. Her friends are all married and, though don’t seem to like it, can’t imagine another life so they try to be the best at what they are, which brings out the worst in them. These friends have maids and it’s 1962 and it’s Mississippi, so the dynamic between them and their maids is mostly racist. Skeeter notices the dynamic, though she doesn’t really address it as racism, (which bothered me the most about this book) and she decides that the dynamic from the point of view of the maids is a story worth telling and sees it as her ticket to becoming a published author and getting out.

There are the usual cringe-worthy moments of false accusations and condescension. There are also a few humorous moments. There’s even a mini-love story involving Skeeter AND a mystery involving Skeeter’s childhood maid. The mini-love story was unnecessary and didn’t really move the story forward or add any depth to Skeeter, but I’m guessing the author thought it was necessary to show Skeeter as a warm blooded woman (and not a total, radical feminist), but still able to stick to her goals.  The revelation in regards to the mystery was so anti-climactic that I thought I had forgotten how to read and wasn’t understanding the actual words.

When the movie came out, I heard some rumblings about it being racist because it was about a white person helping black people. I wouldn’t say it was racist or even whitewashed. The most troubling part was Skeeter’s desire to be different, but not clearly describing from what and not knowing what was happening all around her. Her ignorance was a little jarring and it made her innocence seem feigned. I think that’s what bothered some people. But even that much should’ve been cleared up with one line from Minny: “I just . . . I want things to be better for my kids, but it’s a sorry fact that it’s a white woman doing this.” It’s a light, but not fun read.

I started reading this book after I finished the third book in the Songs of Ice and Fire. I needed a palate cleanser. It was a strange transition, though. Both books set up the chapters with the character’s name it covers and is from the point of view of that character.  I adjusted after the hundredth page. Looking back, I’m pretty sure Tyrion Lannister and Minny would probably get along. As would Cersei and all of the members of the Junior League. And those maids would’ve fit right in at Harrenhal.   

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