Monday, July 19, 2010

The Help (by Kathryn Stockett)

I picked up this book as an airplane read, but then got stuck on De Zoet and didn't get to it. But I picked it up a couple of days ago and I have to say, it's a page-turner! Just as advertised. So I stayed up late last night finishing it.

So, the author is a white woman, and she writes in the voices of three different characters, two black maids and one white woman. So the book opens up with some heavy dialect like "Her legs is so spindly she look like she done growed em last week." And it kind of makes you go, hmm, is this problematic? However, it also made me think of the discussions about white authors writing characters of color and the inherent issues of privilege that come into play. Ultimately the takeaway was: it's better to try, even if you aren't 100% successful, than not to try at all. Especially if you are an established writer, including people of color in your work is better than omitting them.

So maybe I wished this book was by a writer of color. But given that Stockett was a white writer drawing from her own experiences of growing up in Mississippi and her relationship with her own maid, what were her alternatives? To write her whole book from the POV of white people would negate her whole point. And not to try and all would be a shame, because the characters and the story are compelling and--yes--the dialect ends up feeling appropriate to the characters, time and place. She also acknowledges some of the issues in her afterword: of feeling like it wasn't her place to presume to tell the story.

But ultimately, it is a really well-told story with great characters and a compelling plot. I would recommend giving it a chance. And I'd love to hear other points of view on the whole issue of white privilege, too, because I think it's important to think about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really liked this one too. I listened to it as an audiobook and had a hard time turning it off.


5:53 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Yeah, I heard the audiobook version was great! Almost makes me want to listen to it, even though I've already read it.... heh.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous carried said...

I think you and I must be separated at birth readers, because that is pretty much EXACTLY what I thought about The Help (I can't link to my exact page, because of the stupid way I set up my blog, but it was # 97 of the books I read this year). AND, I am a huge fan of John Greene. Mostly, though I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your book blog. I read it a while ago, and forgot all about it and was so pleased to stumble back onto it today (and I added a whole mess of books to my to-read list!)

2:16 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Thank you so much! Does Queen of Booklandia have an RSS feed? Would love to put it in my feed reader if we are separated at birth readers!

11:15 AM  

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