Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett--a review!

Hi all! I recently read _The Help_ by Kathryn Stockett and since it is the book du jour right now (or at least a couple months ago it was. . .) I thought I'd post a brief review here.

I know a lot--A LOT--of people liked this book. I did too, mostly. BUT, overall, this book underwhelmed me. It wasn't that it was a bad book or poorly written. I thought it was well paced. I thought a lot of the characters were warmly drawn and likable--especially Miss Celia! Mae Mobley was so stinkin' cute she was unreal, but she was so cute I didn't care :) (I did find a lot of the characters' actions highly, and annoyingly, predictable. Stuart was predictable and so was Minny. The big secret about the "terrible awful" was pretty obvious. The fact that Miss Celia was not actually a drunk but suffering multiple miscarriages was also obvious.)

What bothered me most was that I felt like Stockett really wanted a book about the experience of black maids in the South but instead of actually writing *that* book, she wrote a book about writing a book about black maids in the South. Why did she need to have a Skeeter character? What did Skeeter add to the book? Nothing for me. I think Stockett used Skeeter as an escape and as an avenue for excuse. Reading the afterword Stockett's ambivalence about trying to write in a black voice was pretty clear. It was a very difficult task to do without falling on stereotypes--which is what I think Stockett ended up doing. I think Skeeter was her comfort zone, her fallback, her easy road out. That's the big question for me: Why didn't Stockett just write a book about the experience of black maids? I get that it would have been harder and a little more controversial, but the outcome could have been much more powerful. Going all meta on her subject matter didn't enrich it one iota.

My other beef with the book was that it pushed my willing suspension of disbelief a little too far. The poop in the pie was predictable (talk about heavy-handed over-theming!) but not believable. It never would have happened. The antagonist, Hilly, also crossed over into unbelievable land with her breakdown and the threat of telling Skeeter's mommy what she did. It was too scripted and unnatural, too much like what our adolescent selves all dream will happen to the mean girls in middle school. The book would have been much more powerful for me if had Hilly stayed in a more restrained and catty characterization. For me this book was a lot like _Fried Green Tomatoes_, sure "the secret's in the sauce" is funny, but just pushes things that are supposed to be grounded firmly in reality too far into unreality. I think it didn't do the racism/civil rights theme justice because it was over-the-top. It just made it all a little cheaper for me.

I think overall I wanted this book to read more like Literary Fiction, but what it really was was genre fiction--some sort of cross between Chick Lit and Historical Fiction. I'm not a hater, though. I did enjoy the book. I just felt like it fell far, far short of its potential.

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