The Help by Kathryn Stockett [Book]
February 14, 2014 1 Comment
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women – mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends – view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
WARNING: DO NOT TAKE THIS BOOK TOO DAMN SERIOUS! I know this is a harsh way to start a review for a book that I actually enjoyed quite a bit, but I just had to make that clear. Take this wonderfully told story exactly for what it is: a heart warming tale that so many of us can hardly understand. When I say not to take this book so serious, I simply mean to not use this book as a definitive definition of the 1960’s and what it was like to be black and/or a servant to the white masses during this time. I mean this not to discredit the factual obligations Stockett may have had whilst making this novel, but to assure you fine readers that the The Help is not a prime example for the sketchy race relations during this time. If you are looking to do some research on the era or the confrontations, I suggest non-fiction as a route to learn more about just how shitty this times were for so many people.
The Help is a brilliant novel though in its own way. Sure it probably isn’t the best written piece of fiction I have ever read, it is actually quite simple which is part of its charm. What makes this book so brilliant is it’s unnerving and often uncomfortable depiction of human interaction in a time when people where “misinformed” or “fucking racist”. Stockett’s depiction of what it means to be a decent person in any time or era is brilliant. She’s no Harper Lee, but she seems to get the concept, probably far better than some silly white boy born in the 80’s in the Northwest, about as far away from Mississippi as you can get. The book is just edgy enough to not lose its whimsical charm, but can still include a chocolate pie made of human shit. The harsh realities of being a black woman working for a white family is definitely conveyed quite directly, although half way through the book I became unsettled by how matter-of-factly I began with thinking “that’s just the way it was”, which I would never normally even consider as an excuse for the crap that ensued during this time.
The book has its Forrest Gump moments, as I like to call them, probably to emphasis the time period even though it was probably unnecessary. The assassinations of that time period are historically known right down to your average American 2nd grader. It also has several sided story plots that I felt could have been completely disregarded, as well as others that could have used some emphasis. For example, I did not give one chocolate pie filled with shit about Skeeter’s relationship with the Senator’s son. I felt that so much time was wasted on this subject, and the vilification of its merit was lost to me, while the character if Celia didn’t seem to receive the proper merit I would have liked to have read. Her importance to the story hit so damn hard at first, but was quickly completed, only to be eventually omitted from the rest of the story. And then there was the ending. I was surprised by how much I didn’t like the ending.
The book ends with the reader having the chance to decide for themselves what actually happens to the characters. This is something I usually enjoy and often times find in some of my favorite works of literature. Problem is: this isn’t the kind of book in which the reader should complete and then decide anything for themselves. It makes sense if a book like The Sun Also Rises ends with a shrine of mystery even though so much has occurred, but Stockett is not Hemingway. The Help is a book that should have ended much like a romantic comedy film in the 90’s would have. It should have been happy! Instead, it ends with promises of a new tomorrow, better days, yet littered with spouse abuse, unemployment, and the only one with a truly positive outlook is the self-hating, self-righteous white woman. This would actually be a beautiful ending, had the story been a bit darker and less light-hearted. But, what made me the most angry about the end was the fact that the book’s villain was hardly punished at all for her bitchy ways (save for a terrible taste in her mouth). Yes, this book had an ending that would have been perfect in so many other settings, just not this one.
As much as I have complained about this book, specifically the ending, I still consider this a wonderful novel. As I stated before, it really isn’t something to be taken too seriously. This is strange to say considering the very serious subject matter. And I have yet to watch the critically acclaimed film that it became, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to like the dramatization of this film much better than the book. No matter, this can not take away the merit of this book that was truly a delightful read for the most part. At the very least, this book could serve as a very serious conversation starter, and could possibly lead a reader to reading more powerful books on the issues in which it somewhat treats seriously.
In conclusion, it’s no Roots, but it will do.
Note: 2014 is the first year for book reviews at Trainwreck’d Society. We will be making a valiant effort to read and review at least 100 books. This is review #4. Be sure to stay in touch and be on the lookout for further reviews throughout 2014. Be sure to let us know if we are falling behind. For a complete list of book reviews, click HERE. Enjoy!