This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I was not looking forward to reading this book.

1. It's not in my choice of genre.
2. It has garnered MUCH attention.
3. I was #100-something on the library waiting list.

In fact, I had actually got the book last year, off the waiting list, after waiting for months. But I never picked it up and lost the much coveted borrownership of the book from the library.

I went back and forth about buying it but decided to go back on the waiting list and fate stepped in and the book became available to me a *second* time about two weeks ago. Thank goodness for fate as it was worth the wait.

Essentially, the novel takes place circa 1962 Mississippi: segregation is still in place, and a strong sense of it in Jackson, Mississippi.

The chapters are broken up by sections with three women: Skeeter, Aibilene and Minny. They are the voice of change - although brave - still under vigilant secrecy.

It's so difficult to read. It made me uncomfortable: reading about how segregation treated people makes me sick. And I don't like to read about it. It's a stain on America and it's shameful. On top of that, Stockett herself a white woman, writing in the style of a black woman.

This is the first paragraph of the book, Aibileen is the narrator:
Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

The stories of these women are riveting. Hearing and learning about their lives, the life they have to deal with, is both shameful and amusing. I love them. Minny is a firecracker. Someone you don't want to mess with! And yet she still cowers to the white women she worked for (not always).

Skeeter is our lone white woman hero. Although she didn't start out actively being a hero: she sort of went with the flow with her racist friends. Not actually believing it, but not actually fighting it.

But an opportunity to write something for NY's publishing powerhouse Harper & Row takes her through Aibileen and Minny's journeys being maids to white women. And she manages to come into her own and makes her an amazing character.

It's one of my favorites of the year. I laughed. I cried. I felt a hole in my soul. How do people become so horrible? How can you go against, what I like to believe, is an innate ability to just be good to people? I'm grateful that I don't know this and I hope to not ever know this.

It's shocking to me that all this took place in the 60s. Not far from my birth year of 1968. All of this segregation, that seems so foreign to LONG ago and yet it's really not. I read in disbelief the author's recounting her own experiences with her black maid. I look at her, on the book jacket, and we are close in age. How can she have experienced segregation? It just doesn't seem possible that it wouldn't have been longer than it has.

A wonderful book that I am grateful to have read. Another big thumbs up to book club for introducing me to yet another wonderful novel I would never have picked up on my own.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you loved it too! Looking forward to book club!