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Ann gave me this book . . . I loved it! A few quibbles: The black maids were all selfless, honest and decent; the white women were for the most part horrible. The Hilly character--the Junior League president, controlling of all her friends, horrible to the black women and really vengeful--borders on a cartoon, at least from where I sit in 2009. It also seems like the white trash girl is pretty over the top. Skeeter--the one who writes the book with the black women's stories--is obviously based on the author. She's a little conflicted about her mother: at one point, her mother (even though she picks on her choices and appearance constantly) tells her how great she is and she shouldn't cheapen herself by going back to the boyfriend who doesn't deserve her. On the other hand, what happened to their maid, a mystery throughout the book which is solved at the end, shows the very worst of her mother.
But the book is tremendously readable and, if nothing else, shows we have at least made some progress.
NY Times (they said it better than I did):
February 19, 2009
Books of The Times
Racial Insults and Quiet Bravery in 1960s Mississippi
By JANET MASLIN
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By Kathryn Stockett
451 pages. Amy Einhorn Books/G. P. Putnam’s Sons. $24.95.
In “The Help,” Kathryn Stockett’s button-pushing, soon to be wildly popular novel about black domestic servants working in white Southern households in the early 1960s, one woman works especially tirelessly. She labors long into the night. She is exhausted. Her eyes are stinging, her fingers bloody and sore.
Is she ironing pleats? Scrubbing toilets? Polishing silver for an all-important meeting of the local bridge club? No way. She is Miss Skeeter Phelan, a white woman. And the white women of “The Help” don’t do those demeaning jobs. They don’t do much of anything else either.
But brave, tenacious Skeeter is different. So she is slaving away on a book that will blow the lid off the suffering endured by black maids in Jackson, Miss. Skeeter’s going to call the place “Niceville,” but she won’t make it sound nice. All of Jackson’s post-sorority girls from Ole Miss will be up in arms if Skeeter’s tell-all book sees the light of day.
The trouble on the pages of Skeeter’s book is nothing compared with the trouble Ms. Stockett’s real book risks getting into. Here is a debut novel by a Southern-born white author who renders black maids’ voices in thick, dated dialect. (“Law have mercy,” one says, when asked to cooperate with the book project. “I reckon I’m on do it.”) It’s a story that purports to value the maids’ lives while subordinating them to Skeeter and her writing ambitions. And it celebrates noblesse oblige so readily that Skeeter’s act of daring earns her a gift from a local black church congregation. “This one, this is for the white lady,” the Reverend of that church says. “You tell her we love her, like she’s our own family.”
A brief word now about Ms. Stockett: When she moved to New York City from Jackson, she came to understand how deeply ambivalent she felt about her roots. If a New Yorker told her that Jackson must be beautiful, she would say it was fraught with crime. But if a New Yorker spoke contemptuously about Jackson, Ms. Stockett would rise to its defense. “Mississippi is like my mother,” she writes in an afterword to “The Help.” And you will see, after your wrestling match with this problematic but ultimately winning novel, that when it comes to the love-hate familial bond between Ms. Stockett and her subject matter, she’s telling the truth.
Expectations notwithstanding, it’s not the black maids who are done a disservice by this white writer; it’s the white folk. The two principal maid characters, the lovingly maternal Aibileen and the angry, scrappy Minny, leap off the page in all their warm, three-dimensional glory. Book groups armed