The Help

The Help - Kathryn Stockett This book is about three women, two black and one white. Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Skeeter Phelan. They share the point of view between them--and a secret. Together they're crafting a book about what it's like being a black maid to the white ladies of Jackson, Mississippi. In early sixties pre-Civil Rights Act segregated Mississippi where crossing lines could be social death at the least if you're the kind of white girl who hangs out at the Junior League--and well shall we say far more dire consequences if you're black. The author crossed some lines too--and she's very aware of it given her note after the book. For one the line that you never tell the little rules bred into you when you grow up white and well-to-do in the last century in Mississippi about all the ways you must not touch the color line. Some reviewers obviously think the author crossed another line too--that she had no right as a white woman to speak in the voice of those black maids. But that, of course, is precisely the power of fiction. You tell stories in the voice of someone you never knew and often never even existed--who isn't your race, your nationality, your generation or age or gender or orientation or class--or even from your own century. You do it knowing you can't really get into another head, another skin and aware of all the ways you might not quite be getting it right. But if you're good, you get the reader to think about what it might be like to be someone else for a while. And Miss Stockett is good. No, not I think, To Kill a Mockingbird good--but good. Not everything struck me as plausible or rang true--but there was plenty that did: enough to be thought-provoking and I did find it a gripping, entertaining read. One review I read accused this novel of being a fairy tale. And yeah, it has that quality but I don't think that's a bad thing. There definitely is a fairy godmother or two in this tale, and more than one Cinderella, and definitely a witch... But at least's there's enough gritty Grimm-like details--this isn't Disney. A story doesn't have to be all stories--it just has to have its own integrity and be told well. Having Stockett on the shelf doesn't mean you can't have Alice Walker too. I'd certainly be interested in the next book Stockett writes.