The Help by Kathryn Stockett was a pick from our couples book club. Yes, I’m in a couples book club. I’ll wait for the heckling to subside. It has been incredibly fun to get together, drink and discuss literature. It’s like a license to act like an adult for one night every two months – no kids hollering and screaming, no fighting, no family dinner. It just feels good.
Our group seems to be fixated on the plight of the black woman in historical periods of America. I only mention this because fully half of all the books we have read so far have dealt with this issue. We started with The Street by Ann Petry which was a brilliant story of a young black mom in the 1940s living in a fomenting Harlem. But that is not the focus of this review. This review is about the monumentally fun debut by Kathryn Stockett.
As I always do with a book club book, I went out and read the other reviews on The Help. This is a self-aggrandizing move on my part. Hey, it makes me sound smart. But it does play an important role in analyzing any book, especially reading those reviews that are counter to my own. If you have ever sat in on any debate, playing the role of counter argument is more fun than debating your own argument. Who doesn’t like the role of Devil’s Advocate, even if it is just against yourself.
While there were plenty of fawning reviews to go around the negatives seem to congeal around one central theme: how dare this good looking vanilla author try to capture the vernacular of a sixties black maid. Get over yourself people – even if you were there she has every right to artistic license as anyone else. Besides, even if it weren’t a hundred percent accurate, it flowed.
The story itself was fantastic. Any great story has a villain that you can relate to and the villain, Hilly, is absolutely perfect. She is a Queen Bee, world class racist bitch that you love to hate because everyone in the world has met her doppelganger at least once in their lives. It’s amazing how many of these people actually exist in the world and how much of our society caters to them. Cruelty is a voyeuristic opiate that is all the more powerful for fear of its angry gaze ever being directed your way. Look at the recent popularity of reality TV if you don’t believe me. Fear is what gives the cruel so much of their power.
The conflict and joy of this story is about confronting this fear from different perspectives. The maids, Minny and Aibeleen, literally have to fear for their lives when putting their stories and experiences with their white employers on paper. These are poignant and powerful tales of injustice that need to be told. The white protagonist is Skeeter, a gangly girl who works the outskirts of Hilly’s anachronistic antebellum society. She is the architect behind cataloging and recording these wonderful tales. The fear she has to confront is being ostracized from a society she doesn’t really want to be a part of anyway.
One could rightfully state that her risk is far less than the maids. It reminds me of the story of the pig and the chicken. The chicken asks the pig if he wants to open a restaurant called Ham & Eggs and split the profits 50 – 50. The pig says, ‘That doesn’t sound fair’. The chicken says,’why not?’ The pig responds, ‘well you’d only be invested where I’d be committed.’
Skeeter is clearly the chicken in this scenario but fear is always relative to the person it is currently assaulting. Stockett does a great job of making this fear still feel incredibly real and painful even when Skeeter is not as committed as the maids.
Her writing is not on par with the Hemingways and Vonneguts of yesteryear but it is very engaging and she never strays from the mainline of the story keeping you involved from start to finish. I recommend this to anyone with a pulse.