Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Help: Book of the month

Synopsis: during the early 1960s a young white woman in Jackson, Mississippi interviews black maids in her community. Together, they write an anonymous book sharing life from the maids' perspective and in the process, redefine what they believe about friendship and identity.

The HelpI have had this book on my “to read” shelf for over a year. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until I saw a preview for the based-on-the-book movie (to be released in August) that I picked it up for the first time. 

The quotes on the back of the book made it sound depressing. Another poignant, painful novel about the South. But the movie trailer hooked me. I saw the frilly society ladies' homes; the dark, beautiful faces of the story tellers; the landscapes of cotton plantations and a city in the midst of the civil rights movement. It made me curious. One image shown during the preview was a front yard full of toilets. What's that all about? 

As the trailer concluded, I realized one of the protagonist is a writer. SOLD! To the woman who judges books by their covers. I got home and started reading.

It’s a story steeped in it's setting. From the very first sentence, you know you’re in the deep south. Everything takes place in an unmistakable location: warm kitchens, spotless parlors, dusty roads, empty mansions, country clubs, and hot attic bedrooms. Food is a prominent theme, and the author (Kathryn Stockett) does a masterful job of placing the story in a specific era (brand names, clothing descriptions, stores, appliances, songs, societal changes, etc.). The details aren’t burdensome, they bring the story to life. No other book has inspired me to clean my whole house and bake cornbread from scratch.

The book is written from three different perspectives. And it’s seamless. The chronology wasn’t confusing at all. In fact, the three distinct voices helped round out the narrative: the journalist-hopeful doing the interviewing (Miss Skeeter) and her complex family and romantic relationships; a wise, compassionate middle-aged maid (Abilene) who lost her own son but loves helping to raise children; and a younger, spunky, "sass-mouthed" maid (Minnie) whose family life is filled with conflict and whose soul is filled with strength she's still discovering.

Oh! To be able to write like this! It kills me to read Kathryn Stockett's mini-biography on the dust jacket “…this is her first novel.” Such a blazing success of a first novel! The “New York Times Bestseller” stamp of approval is well deserved. Bummer it took me so long to join the club of fans.

And I just can't resist pointing out: we're a week into June, and I already finished a book! That alone could be my glowing recommendation for The Help.

Hooray for meeting goals (book reading aspirations explained here).

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