Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recent Reading- The Help

Important preface to this review: I am one of those people who doesn’t do well when faced with exhortations to view/read something widely and unanimously praised. Call it childish or perverse, I often find it that much harder to like or enjoy and certainly not to the degree everyone around me seems to be feeling. Several key examples of movies and books which I disliked in the face of adulation from the majority- Terms of Endearment, Black Swan, any of Lauren Hilldebrands’ against-all- odds books, Bridges of Madison County (I’m still freaked out by both the book AND the movie) and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

This leaves me in a precarious position with The Help. Goodreads, which is my go to book/reading website (lets you track what you’ve read and what you want to read!), has it rated 4.5 out of 5 stars based on over 100,000 readers! I rated it a 3. Scanning reviews show it is perceived as an amazing work of fiction and by many as a seminal work on race relations in the south. I’m sorry but this is not To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a reasonably good story with some great plot twists that happens to take place in the south. I didn’t dislike it but did not love it. Too many things got in the way of my immersion in the story; most notably, Stockett’s take on a deep southern accent. The use of ‘a’ and ‘on’ for ‘of’ and ‘going’ were so pervasive they were off-putting and made me feel as if the focus was on the dialect not the character.

That aside, my biggest problem with The Help may be not the book itself but the readers’ perceptions. Is this really so shocking- domestic help being subjugated and abused? It’s still going on today! Maybe not so much with one race but there are scores of women in this country who are here illegally and are being overworked and underpaid- in some cases even held hostage. Framing it in the South in the 60s made it easier for the reader to get worked up about the injustice but it is not a new or unheard of story so why such outrage? I’m sure Ms. Stockett did not intend to write a treatise on the socio-economic ills of the domestic labor market in the 60s so why such a widespread interpretation?  

I have more thoughts on themes in the book (women hurting women, gender roles) but would much rather hear from others who have read it. What did you think? Did I miss the mark completely?

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