160 Following


Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

The Help

The Help - Kathryn Stockett I'm torn on this book, because, on one hand, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would; it's an entertaining, often humorous read, and the pacing is terrific. On the other hand, I couldn't help but think Kathryn Stockett missed the point of her own book. The book is set in the early 1960s, and told from the POV of three women, Skeeter, a young white woman writing a book called "The Help" about the lives of African American domestics; and Aibileen and Minny, two of those aforementioned domestics. I don't have a problem with a white woman writing in the voice of a black woman. As a woman writer I've written in the voices of men, and people of other races. I believe a writer can pull it off if she does it well, with compassion and knowledge. I did wince occasionally when the African American characters talked in thick "Lawd-ain't-it-sure-enough-hot" dialect, but overlooked it since it didn't rely on the dread phonetic spelling, and may be the author's recollection of the period.What's more problematic for me is the question at the heart of this novel, which I perceived this way: is Skeeter, or is she not, exploiting the very women she enlists to help her write this book? Stockett doesn't completely ignore the issue, but she gives it very short shrift indeed. A young maid, Gretchen, does confront Skeeter by calling her "Another white lady trying to make a dollar off of colored people." But the matter is quickly dropped when Aibileen says that no, she's not. Skeeter becomes less of a writer than a typist as the maids tell their own stories, publishes the book anonymously in order to protect the maids, shares the profits...and in the end the book's publication is the impetus for transformation in the lives of all three women. Still, it feels very much like Skeeter's book. Her POV is the most nuanced, and the most similar to the author's own life. (They both grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and both go off to NYC to become writers.) The scenes with Aibeleen and the little girl she cares for are the most poignant, which I suspect also reflects the author's experience. Fair enough. And yet, I can't help but feel there is some depth missing here. Why was I made a little uncomfortable, for example, when the maids continued to refer to the white women who treated them like garbage -- forcing them to wash their hands in bleach, use separate toilets, fire them at will, even have them imprisoned -- as Miss Hilly or Miss Elizabeth? The characters are likable, the plot entertaining and the author's afterward shows her intentions are clearly in the right place. I am a white Canadian woman who grew up in the sixties. Thus, I can't say how accurate this portrayal of black women's lives in 1960 in Mississippi is. Still, it feels a little too sweet somehow. Yes, a young man is blinded for accidentally using the wrong restroom, and there is anxiety among the woman that they may be targeted for similar violence if their identities are revealed, but the overall tone is perhaps a little too sweet, even with the shadow of fear Stockett often refers to. As I read, I couldn't help but wonder how the tone might have changed if it were written by someone on the other side of the paycheck. I found myself curious about how a co-authored book might have turned out. Of course, perhaps those are not questions I have a right to ask. An author's vision is what it is, and I applaud Stockett for exploring her feelings toward her upbringing. It's a good place to start. I'll be curious to see what she does next.