Wednesday, May 05, 2010

4 Snouts Up for The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(:)(:)(:)(:) for The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Not every 'New York Times Bestseller' is worth a read, but this one is. The book, set in Jackson, Mississippi in the mid-1960's (at the time of Medgar Evers' murder) is a fictional account of life in that time for 3 women, two black and one white, who work together in fear and secret to write a groundbreaking book of stories about what it's really like for the entirely black serving class to work for their white bosses and live their lives.

Stockett, from the race and class of the bosses, was born and raised in Jackson around the time the book is set. The voices and dialects of the black women feel authentic from my vantage, but what do I know?

My point of reference, actually, is my mother who was born in Charleston, South Carolina and raised in a succession of southern cities. She has often spoken to me of feeling closer to her "Mammy" Lulabelle then she ever did to her mother. The Help, among others, tells a heartbreaking story of one maid Aibileen who loves the white children she raises fiercely, telling little Mae Mobley several times a day, "you is perfect. You is smart. You is pretty" to counteract the opposite message Mae Mobley's mother conveys.

This book is not Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, an authentic experience told from an African-American vantage. Although this book seeks to give us a sense of the real experiences of that time, it is mostly a good story set in a dramatic and interesting time. What makes this book good rather than great also makes it a fun beach read despite its dramatic content. While the author takes pains to convey the terrifying risks that the maids undertake to tell their stories, even anonymously in that day, ultimately that risk plays more as a device for dramatic tension that gets rather too neatly resolved at the end. Read it and tell me what you think...

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