Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Help

I think I am one of the last people I know to read this book ---- Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Over the last six months so many people, who know I love to read, have asked me, "Have you read The Help?"

Each time I had to answer, "Uh, no."

"Oh, you have to read it. It's the best book."

"If you were raised in the South, you have to read it."

"As much as you like to read? You haven't read it?"

Uh. No.

Yes, I do like to read, but I am hardly a reader of current best sellers. I actually tend to read books a lot later than others. My library used to have a "new" book section, which is where I found little sleepers like Waiting by Ha Jin or The Black Flower by Howard Bahr, a few weeks after they were released, but my library either stopped doing that or they moved it.


I remember when I was in high school everyone I knew practically went to the theater to see the 1970 movie Love Story, a tear-jerker, based on the novel by Erich Segal, and starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw.

I didn't go to the movies much, and I believe it was rated R, and my parents were vigilant about ratings and movies. So, I didn't see it till much later -- how much later, I dunno, but later.

All my friends told me that I needed to see it... that I had to see it -- that it was the best movie. They squealed about it -- talked about it -- and raved about how it was so good.

"I cried so hard!"

"I hope a man cares about me like that."

"It's to die for."

[no pun intended, I hope]

I finally watched it -- the whole thing -- and did not shed a tear. I felt like the worst teenage girl in America. In fact, I didn't really like it.

What? Not bawl my eyes out at Love Story?
For shame!!!!!
Not love it?
Yes, seriously.

It's not that the movie was not sad, but I think the "hype" by the media, the reviews, and my friends built it up for me -- so that all I felt about it -- was anti-climatic. It was sad -- but, well, it was saccharine sad. I don't do saccharine sad -- it makes me crazy.

I liked the novel The Help, but I find more wrong with it than right.

1. Lawd, the stereotypes....

2. Lawd, the love story...

3. Lawd, the "light" touch of Southern life...

4. Lawd, the good white girl....

5. Lawd, the black domestics...

6. Lawd, the nice, tidy ending...

Just lawd. At least my saying "Lawd" is one of the favorite words of my girlfriend out of Alabama.

In this novel, Stockett sets her story in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1962 to 1964, and tells the story of a wanna-be writer, Skeeter [Eugenia] Phelan, who comes home, after graduating from Ole Miss, and determines that she's just itching to do something other than play bridge, wait to get married (even though she has no man in sight), and go to Junior League meetings.

After hearing her best friend, Miss Hilly, complain about the black maid at one friend's house not having her own "potty" separate from the white's, Miss Skeeter gets a bee in her bonnet to write about something important. I mean, come on -- Skeeter? Miss Hilly? Lawd.

What Skeeter manages to do is convince the black domestics that she knows to tell their stories about being black in Mississippi and doing for "white folks." Aibileen and Minny agree to tell Miss Skeeter their story in secret in order to "change things 'round here."

Aibileen, sweet-natured and maternal, is a direct contrast to Minny, who's angry and a back talker. From their perspective comes their stories.... all of them -- including Skeeter's who becomes black-listed by her friends when controversial pamphlets are accidentally discovered in her satchel by Miss Hilly, looking for the Junior League newsletter.

There are many, I'm sure, who enjoyed this book and thought it was "wonderful," but I found it lacking --

I'm kind of sorry I didn't love it. It makes me feel un-Southern. I hope I get bonus points for liking it.



  1. Well, your cohort Edie agrees with you on this one--questioning why it stayed on the bestseller list so long. Let's see: Most readers just read for pleasure, not with an analytical mind. Many may not be from the south or ever gotten close to it--so they swallow the stereotypical nature of it. ,And, does the fact that it was set in the late 50s mitigate it at all? Lastly how would you respond to one comment I read somewhere--"why didn't an African-American person write this book?"

  2. To answer Celia's question, if an African American had written this book, it would have been an angry book. I enjoyed the book in the beginning because of the use of three different narrators and the author's good ear for dialect. However, the characters became one dimensional, particularly Hilly, and half way through the book it was impossible to differentiate Aibileen's speech from Minny's speech, particularly their use of similes. After about 350 pages, I detected a shift in the pace of the narrative where I could almost hear the author saying, "Okay, y'all, I'm agonna wrap this thing up quickly now!" And,she does! Skeeter gets a job in New York although she's never been interviewed; Aibilieen can write the Miss Myrna column for the same money the newspaper paid Skeeter, and Minny has a job for life. Then 4-year-old Mae Mobley plays a game pretending she's at a sit-in at Woolworths and later "Back of the bus" and covers for Aibileen by saying she learned these games from Miss Taylor. Did anyone else get sick of that mimosa tree symbolism? The final scene with Aibileen walking away from the house and feeling free after she is fired is outrageous!

    I'm sorry for the diatribe, but the book had such potential in the beginning, but I think Stockett squandered it . . . and ended up on the NYT bestseller list! We love soap operas, particularly if everyone except the villain lives happily ever after!

    By the way, Celia, Stockett may have gotten away with part of this if the setting were indeed the 1950s, but the setting is in the 1960s.

  3. Lawd, I love it when you girls chat on my blog.


    I need to go out on the "net" and see what the real reviewers say about this book.

    I thought I was hard on it till I saw Edie's reply. LOL

  4. I have not read The Help. I am not Southern, so maybe I have an excuse.

    I HATED Love Story. HATED IT! Almost as much as I hated Thornbirds.