Also known as my favorite book so far this summer. Man, guys, you wouldn’t believe how awesome this book is. Three colorful and rich narratives, beautifully constructed people and place, I can’t wait to tell you about all that I learned from Kathryn Stockett’s writing. I’m very excited about that. I’ll try to keep that out of this post.
Anyway, I picked this book out because it’s been made into a movie that comes out August 10. And I love Emma Stone, so I thought I’d like to see the movie. But it’s necessary to read the book first, amiright?
I took it along with me to camp at Snowbird last week and read it on the bus and during some of the breaks I could snatch. It was a quick, easy enough read. I read it back to back with All the Sad Young Literary Men which you may remember also had three narrators of the same gender. Though ATSYLM is told by three men of the nearly the same age, and The Help is told by three women of stark age difference and strikingly different socioeconomic status. It’s also set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, right in the hotbed of Jackson, Mississippi.
The premise sort of follows the “If walls could talk…” idea. Except these walls are known as the “help” the black maids who work for the middle class and wealthy families of Jackson. Imagine for a moment that the walls of your home were given not only the power of speech but the dexterity to write down their stories and with that power they told stories, without bias, of your best and worst moments. You’ll get a little bit closer to the idea of what it would be like to be one of the women in Jackson in the novel. Observing people is always fascinating, especially when they are not conscious of your observation.
The book also operates under the bizarre convention of Southern pride. The kind that sweeps the truth under the rug. It’s a common trope, but dysfunction always magnetizes people. I think Tolstoy said something about that. We are drawn to dysfunction, the airing out of other people’s dirty laundry, scandal. The world is rife with such stories. Rarely do they end with the sort of resolution found in The Help.
Possibly, my favorite thing about whole novel was the author’s note at the end. She talked about her struggle to write in the voice of a black person, to convey the strange dichotomy of love and hate tension between the races. It was so honest. I loved it. Can we have more please?
Though, right now I wouldn’t trade places with Kathryn Stockett for anything. The story was born out of such a personal place for her. Now she’s got a national bestseller under her belt that’s been turned into a movie in under 2 years and the pressure must be mounting. I’m back to the question that often haunts me: would it be better to write one perfect, complete novel and fade out from the peak? Or have a career of successes and failures? What do you think?