Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lord Help Us

Find it yourself. Ugh.
The Help
Kathyrn Stockett 

Le sigh. What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? My book club decided to read this as our next selection. It’s not the type of book I usually read – I don’t like reading the same book as everyone else on the subway.  In this case, it wasn’t just my book snobbery getting in the way. This looked like your classic white-protagonist-swoops-in-and-saves-the-poor-black-folks narrative. But the majority of the group was excited to read it, especially with the movie coming out.

It was exactly what I expected. Skeeter, a recent college grad, daughter of a wealthy cotton farmer, with a trust fund ready to help her snare a husband, is the one who brings "dignity" to the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi. 

Skeeter's complete cluelessness about the world is what crystallized this book's problems for me. She thinks that she can drive to the black neighborhood in her Cadillac, hang out for hours, and not be noticed. She thinks she can keep her position editing the Junior League newsletter after she makes enemies with nearly everyone else in the League. She thinks that Stuart, her sometimes-boyfriend and son of the segregationist state senator, is still going to want to marry her after she tells him about her book project. AND YET. Skeeter is the one with a direct line to a senior editor at a New York Publishing House.  Skeeter puts the maids' stories down, and works so hard editing them so they can be published. Skeeter is the one who provides a way for two young black boys to attend college. Skeeter is the one who convinces the Jackson Journal to hire Aibileen to write the Miss Myrna cleaning column after Skeeter runs off to New York. Skeeter manages to accomplish so much, despite her bumbling, one wonders how she manages.

I suppose that this could be looked on as a commentary on just how disadvantaged African Americans were during the Jim Crow era. On how much institutionalized racism kept people in poverty. It could start a discussion about how oppression still continues to keep a hierarchical society firmly in place. That's not how the book read, though. It read as though I was supposed to identify with Skeeter, and realize - "Hey, if I lived in that time, I'd be a "good" person, too!" Of course, if everyone actually behaved that way, then the world would have looked (and would look right now) much, much different.

The best thing I can say about this experience was I was spared buying it or trying to get it from the library, as a friend lent it to me.

For a much more complete look at this book's problems:

4 comments:

Kinga Bee said...

I am so happy my book club would probably never ever choose this.

You can our usual chocies here: http://brixtonbookgroup.blogspot.com/ :)

MJ said...

@Kinga Bee

Ooh, I'm jealous! Looks like you all make some great choices!

Rayna said...

Yeah, I think I'm glad I passed on this one. Maybe I'll still see the movie, but everything I've read about the book makes me not want to read it. I read the first few pages and the way it was written really bothered me - since I'm pretty sure the chapters from the white characters' POV didn't change spelling to reflect their southern accents. Dialect is great in some situations, but it just seemed kind of condescending in The Help. Am I totally off-base?

Good luck at your book club!

MJ said...

@Rayna
You are not of base at all. The dialect was so over-the-top for the black characters, and not a trace of Southern drawl for the whites. I don't get it.