November 22, 2009

The Help

Is there a woman in America who hasn't read this book yet?

The quick look: Stories about black maids working for white families in the 1960s in racially-charged Jackson, Mississippi. My take: It's just so engrossing. Suspenseful, heartbreaking, funny, even a little annoying at times. (More on that in a second.)

The book is a touching look at women's relationships - boss and maid, care givers, women raising their own children and the children of others.

Suspenseful, heartbreaking, funny - I used those words above, and I think those are self-explanatory adjectives. By annoying, I mean this: It's a little tricky, I imagine, for the author to justify creating her black characters' voices in such a way as to potentially perpetuate stereotypes ("I reckon I'm on a do it," says one in her southern dialect.). It made me a little uncomfortable at first. But the black characters are developed so wonderfully that I let it go after a while. It's the maids, in fact, who are the most vivid characters of this book.

The author claims in an afterword to have written the novel to explore the world of and pay tribute to her own childhood maid. So I suppose she knows her subject matter and the life of which she writes. That world and that time, it seems to me, was likely a lot more harsh and violent for The Help than this book lets on, however. I suppose it's plenty harsh now and then: A black teenager is blinded for using the wrong restroom, Medgar Evers being killed in his own front yard - but it could have been described a lot worse and I kept waiting for something really hideous to happen. So maybe I thought it ended up being a little too cozy?

Or maybe I didn't. I did really enjoy this book and its exploration of the women's relationships. It did win me over.

Something niggles, though. I feel a little bit about this book like I did about Edgar Sawtelle - I enjoyed it! Why can't I just leave it at that? Why must I feel there is something nagging me, that there should be something more about this book that I should pick apart, pick on? Unfortunately, I don't think it's always the book. I think it's the wannabe know-it-all in me. The part of me who wants to put my years of studying literary criticism to work, or the part of me who feels like she's still writing book reviews for a newspaper (which requires more criticism than lazy enjoyment of a book). Hmm. Let it go, Jenn!

So, okay. I liked it.

1 comment:

Mama Reads said...

We are reading this for book club this month. Was glad to see your review! I'm glad I found another avid reader in the area!