Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Help

I woke up early this morning to go running.  (Surprise!)  It's raining, however, and not just a sprinkle.  It's pouring.  Everyone knows that I don't run in the rain because I'll melt.


I'm up.  I'm ready to run.  It's raining.  Instead of moping about, wanting to run and wishing that this weekend's weather would have rolled into St. George last week, and dreaming about cool, PR-betiding temperatures, I decided to catch up on my book reports for I have a bunch, just waiting.  (Evidently I'm not running but my sentences insist on doing so.  Those sentences, they have a possession of their own, don't they?  They just do what they want and we sentence creators have no control)

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett


Here's the problem with popular literature:  The popular people are always turning books into something they're not.  Take Stefanie Meyer's Twilight Series for example.  They are great little stories for what they are.  They are teeny bopper romances, and nothing more.  Popular people insist on making the stories more than teeny bopper romances, and the unwarranted hype has turned a lot of folks off.  I've beat that already-dead vampire to a garlic-infused pulp, so I'll quit now and save you the droning diatribe.

While The Help was a great read, one I recommend, the popular people have once again turned it into something it is not.  My opinion of the book was tainted the minute I laid eyes upon the cover.  (Those of you who say you cannot judge a book by its cover are missing all sorts of opportunity to judge stuff by covers!)  Let me show you what I mean:


See that?  Let me spell it out for you.  The cover says, "This could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird."  Nuh-uh.  No way.  There will be one – and only one – To Kill a Mockingbird.   Any book that resembles To Kill a Mockingbird, in even the remotest way possible, will be nothing more than a copy.  A fraud.  A fake.  A mockingbird mockery.  So, yeah, the NPR critic, and then the publisher who allowed this vulgar claim, managed to place a nice cloudy film between this cute little story and myself.

Even though my view was tainted significantly by an outlandish claim, I still think it was a great story.  I would recommend it and I'll see the movie too.  For future rabid reference, I'll provide a brief synopsis.

This is a story of a girl from Jackson, Mississippi who goes to college, comes home, and discovers how blatantly racist the situation is.  Most southern homes have "help"– that is, they pay "colored" people small bits of cash to put up with their crap.  Mostly.  Some who hire "Help" are nice and pay well.

This girl's name is Eugenia but goes by "Skeeter" – don't get me started on how this does a shoddy job of emulating Harper Lee's "Scout."  But hey, they started it, what with the claim that it's the next To Kill a Mockingbird.

Skeeter, having her eyes and ears opened to the racist ways of The South, returns home from college only to discover that her friends and family have some serious race issues.  One friend had a new toilet installed in the garage for "The Help" because blacks and whites aren't supposed to use the same toilets.  This is was got it started.  Skeeter decides to write a book about The Help from The Help's point of view.  Skeeter holds secret interviewing meetings and sneaks around so as to write the stories without getting caught.  Getting caught would lead to someone getting hurt, for fraternizing with the Help and those of "color" was a crime punishable by the public while the law looked the other way.

As an aside, I find the whole concept of not toilet-sharing assinine. They say that the black folks cannot use the white toilets because of "diseases."  However, the white folk are just fine with the black folks preparing their food, doing their laundry, and CLEANING THE WHITE TOILET.  I mean, were they really that stupid to think that they'll get diseases from using the same toilet, but will be in the clear if it's cleaned by the alleged disease-ridden Help?

Anyway, one by one, Skeeter convinces a few people to help her write her book.  Her book is published but not without a few close calls and various obstacles.

I think that The Help was cleverly constructed in the way that Kathryn Stockett told the tale from a few different viewpoints.  One chapter would be from the view of Skeeter, while others would be written in first person from a few of the featured Help (Minnie, Aibileen.)  I liked how the language was different for each, and that the language was a direct reflection of the amount of schooling each of them had.  This was my favorite part of the book.  I'm also a big fan of words that are written so as to show how they're mispronounced.  There were bunches of this.

Segregation is the predominant theme in this book.  To be honest, I have little exposure to segregation.  I grew up in Utah where there was one black person in my high school, and he was the student body president.  Actually, he was Indian, not black, but we thought he was black and way cool.  Being black in Utah was ridiculously awesome, because it was implied that you were athletic, and had rhythm.  Therefore you got lots of attention and/or scholarships.  My only experience with racism would be from my born-in-1900 granny, in the which everyone just blamed her senility.  I knew better though.  It wasn't so much her aged senility as it was the age in which she was born.  Folks born back then were just born racist-ish.  (I say "ish" cause she's my sweet granny and St. Peter has most assuredly set her straight.)

Spouse, on the other hand, has some serious experience with segregation.  Spouse attended high school in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee.  He has some stories.  Each time he tells me some of these stories, I am beside myself.  My gaper opens wide and I'm so shocked I can't even say "no way."

The Help takes place in Jackson, Mississippi.  Aside from computer-related trade shows in Atlanta and Oak Ridge, then a trip to see my sister sing in Charleston, and a jaunt to Disneyworld, I have not really visited or experienced "The South."  The Help made me think that visiting Jackson would be an interesting thing to do.  I pulled it up on a map only to glower in disappointment.  Jackson is too close to Memphis.  Spouse will not go near Memphis on purpose, for Spouse has no desire to visit any location within a few hundred miles of his high school stomping grounds.

With that I conclude the latest installment of my rabid book reporting.  It stopped raining.  Perhaps I'll go wander around in it.

Next up:  Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Aslander, and Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.


whitneyingram said...

I agree with you on the mockingbird thing. I think what the review might mean is that there are few books that tackle segregation and this one did and from a whole new view point.

And yes, the writer did a fantastic job. I too loved the chapter style. It kept you wanting to read more to find out what happens with each character.

You should see the movie. It isn't often that a movie can do a book justice. Aibileen is just PERFECT.

whitneyingram said...

And I dare you not to cry at the end when Aibileen leaves May Mobley and May Mobley is crying at the window. It's just terrible.

StupidBike said...

So, my mom and dad are ultra right wing, catholic and racist-ish. They go to a country church, whose other congregants are either ultra rich thourobred horse farm owners or those who work on said farms, most of these workers are from south of the border of course. So my mom and dad have quite a conundrum. They handle it gracefully enough though.

Strangely enough, in the 60's, my dad, who retired from the FBI in the early 90's, was stationed in Aniston, Alabama, he use to often tell me about him and his fellow agents removing bombs from the porches of African Americans. He of course used a less PC descriptor. Really messed up my head, using that word to describe those he was helping. Still messes with me, that and the fact that they think our current president is evil and they love Rush L.

How the hell did I become such a left wing, pacifist?

rabidrunner said...

Hey Stupid(bike), perhaps your parents scared you into being that way. My parents are left-wing and anti-mormon. I ended up a pervertarian mormon (we pervertarians are neither left or right, we're down.)

Don't your parents raise dogs too? A complete bio of both your parents would be insightfully entertaining. I quite like meeting people, then learning some of their parents. It's like finding the last few pieces of a puzzle.

rabidrunner said...

Oh, and do you have kids? What will you scare your kids into? I try not to think about what I'm scaring my kids into.