Summer Reading – The Help, pt. 2

So, this book has been collecting a lot of rave attention. And like I said Monday I couldn’t believe how much I loved reading it and what I felt I learned from Kathryn’s writing style.

Here are the things that I loved:

-The heat of Mississippi, at points you feel like you’re sweating along with Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen. The scene where Skeeter shorts out the electricity at her house after turning the AC up to 3 is wonderful in its heartbreaking revery.

-The “Mean Girls” quality – I always love that moment when a character realizes there’s more to their existence than how they’ve previously gone about things. Skeeter wakes up slowly, but once she’s there her life is very different.

-The diction, guys, is incredible. Let’s just pause for a minute and talk about how KS was able to write three separate women. Actually, I’d be very curious to hear from people if they found it as easy to determine who was speaking as I did. Especially in comparison to that book by Keith Gessen. I don’t know if it’s because I share the same gender as these narrators or what but I could follow them so much better. Well, ok there were a couple hints – sections started with their names and you’d stay with that narrator for a few chapters, and the diction thing helped a lot, and their settings were all very different. In comparison, Keith, Sam, and Mark are pretty much all three the same dude, going through the same stuff, and their struggles are not heroic, more symptomatic. Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen are fighting in THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT ya’ll. They all three face bodily harm if they are found out before the project is completed and once it was the probability of their being attacked, injured, or killed increased. I mean that’s significant. This novel is about more than just finding one’s place in the world (though all three of the women make those discoveries) it’s about the truth and worth of human life, sacrifices for the greater good, making changes when it seems impossible.

The Author’s Note at the end illuminated much about the inception of the novel. She quotes a line from an article written by Howell Raines. I just read “Grady’s Gift“. That man can weave some words and make you feel. Kathryn did, in my opinion a great job of inserting me in the midst of that story she needed to tell. There could have been more, sure, there always can be, but that’s the beauty of writing – some things you leave to your reader’s imagination. I felt immersed in the world of 1960s Jackson. She used real historical markers (though a few were anachronistic) that reminded me this was reality for people.

My parents were children in the midst of all this, children raised in the south, children raised in the middle of racial struggles. At this point I feel like I’m just repeating myself, but I so greatly admire the fact that Kathryn Stockett made the place and people so real. I’d like to tell a story so well it becomes real. I think Mrs. Stockett did that. She wrote a book because she felt compelled to answer a question, she found a true answer. I’m a fan. Go read it. Pay money for it. It’s worth it.

And now we’ll just wait til the movie comes out 🙂

Summer Reading – The Help

  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?