"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

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Summary: A white woman in 1960s Mississippi secretly documents the lives of the black maids in her town.

I avoided this book because I thought nothing really fresh or new could be added to the civil rights struggle. It seems as if I've read all the good books and the only stories left would offer nothing very interesting. Boy, was I wrong! And I'm so glad I read this book.

Skeeter, a white college graduate, returns to her home town of Jackson, Mississippi, and all of her journalistic ambitions are funneled into writing for the Junior League's Newsletter. On an impulse, she sends her articles to a New York publisher, who encourages her to write about something that is fresh and new, and hasn't been covered before. The publisher advises her:
"Get going. Before this civil rights thing blows over." 
Skeeter decides to interview and write about the black maids in Jackson, and their relationships with their white employers. To Skeeter it is worth the risk, and it just may be her ticket out of Jackson and off to New York City if she succeeds.

Meanwhile, Skeeter's mother is busy helping Skeeter find a rich husband from a good Southern family. Skeeter has a tender, tentative relationship with a man who seems to appreciate her for who she is, or maybe he just enjoys her thumbing her nose at the small-town traditions.

Skeeter gets lots of heat from her friends in the Junior League, especially the queen bee, Hilly.
“’I am about to be a politician’s wife, unless you have anything to do with it. How is William ever going to get elected in Washington, D.C. one day if we have integrational friends in our closet?’ ”
The racism is prevalent but Skeeter is in awe of the maids' bravery in telling the truth about their lives and the love they have for their careless employers. What's surprising is how much the white employees seem to rely on their servants, despite the way they treat them. Skeeter's mother says:
“They say it’s like true love, good help. You only get one in a lifetime.”

During a family tragedy in the house where fat and sassy Minny works, the husband says:
“You’ll always have a job here with us, Minny. For the rest of your life if you want.”
“Thank you sir,” I say and I mean it. Those are the best words I could hear today.
I reach for the door but Miss Celia says, real soft, “Stay in here awhile. Will you, Minny?”
So I lean my hand on the sideboard because the baby’s getting heavy on me. And I wonder how it is that I have so much when she doesn’t have any. He’s crying. She’s crying. We are three fools in the dining room crying.”
A tender touching story. The only reason why I gave it four stars instead of five is because I thought a few scenes were cliched and predictable, but others were deliciously dark and appealing.

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