Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Help

Call it laziness posting my Goodreads review here.  Perhaps I just wrote a much longer review there than I usually do...

I liked this book.  I liked getting the different perspectives - it definitely made the story feel multi-dimensional in a way that it wouldn't have if she had written it from one voice (I just don't know if the writing, for me, could have carried me through the whole story with only one perspective).  I appreciate how difficult it must have been for a white author to delve into this kind of subject matter (household dynamics between black maids and the white women they work for in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement) and to try to capture the voices of the black characters, and I think she did a pretty good job with the subject matter.

However, there were aspects of the book that just didn't really make it exceptional in my view.  Many of the characters felt too one-dimensional to me.  I think the book would have been more interesting if characters like Elizabeth, Skeeter's mother, or Stuart could have been written with more depth.  There were parts where you felt like there might be more depth in store for these characters, but they never really reached any satisfactory level of complexity.  In fact, many of the characters who have very little face time in the novel are more dynamic than some of the main secondary characters.  For as much as the story is about getting beyond what is on the surface, for many of the characters that is all you really see, and that was a bit disappointing to me.  It made the view of Skeeter, in particular, feel exceptionally shallow (but maybe that was the point), and yet it still feels like she tries to pull it off as a triumph for Skeeter in ways that didn't necessarily feel realistic to me.  I felt that Skeeter as a persona of the author herself was a bit too obvious. 

Having read several first-hand accounts of what life was like during the beginnings of integration in Mississippi and Arkansas, I also felt like the consequences of some of what the characters were involved in just didn't feel as tangible and threatening as they would actually have been during that time if these women were actually doing the things they were doing.  I don't want to give too much away, but I felt like things were painted in a very particular light that made it hard for me to believe that things weren't going to work out in the end.  While there are instances of consequences that are very severe for members of the black community in Jackson, they often seem to be in the background, and they feel somewhat distanced from the action of the narrative, though I feel as if they should (in those instances) feel closer and more real to these characters than the writing leads us to believe.  I feel as if Stockett addressed the most obvious kinds of bigotries but bypassed some of the more subtle and pervasive racial issues at hand.

That being said, it was a page-turner, and I still enjoyed reading it and thinking about the complexity and difficulty of the issues it was trying to explore and how we really haven't moved as far away from some of the more subtle racial issues as we would sometimes like to believe.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

 It has been a while since I posted anything on my blog.  Yes, I am officially a blog slacker.  I don't feel badly about it - I've had plenty to do.  :-)  This book, however, compelled some kind of post.  It was intriguing to me in ways that are difficult to describe.

Synopsis: Jenna Fox has been in a coma for 18 months.  When she awakens, she finds that her memory has been severely affected.  As she regains pieces of her past and begins to build a new present, she wonders if she is, or ever was, the same Jenna whom her parents have worked so hard to save.

I admit that because the book comes from Jenna's perspective, it was difficult at the beginning to understand what is going on, but that is the point, and it was executed masterfully.  This book does such a good job of capturing Jenna's perspective, her fear, her anger, her yearning, her uncertainty, her questions, that as a reader you feel almost as if you are experiencing it too.  And though I felt at times as if I had a better idea of what was happening to Jenna than she did, I was pleasantly surprised that even my assumptions were not all correct.  I actually expected it to be predictable in certain respects, but was still surprised by the unexpected.  The very fact that I was constantly changing my mind about what exactly was going on is enough to show that in many respects, I felt just as lost and confused as Jenna did.

I am not going to tell you much about the plot because, well, I think the less you know going into reading it, the better.  Sufficeth to say that it is a science-fiction tale set in a not too distant future.  The science and the future I found to be very believable, and some of the issues at stake are issues that the scientific and medical community are already facing.  What are the limits of ethical practice in medicine?  Because we can do something, should we do it?  The ethical questions of this book are completely enthralling, and what was so amazing about it was that she presents both points of view so well that you feel for and understand both.  It raises the complexities of ethical issues through the emotionally charged tales of the characters - characters whom I grew to love and ache for.

The more pressing questions for me, however, were questions relating to what it is that makes us human in the first place and what it means to love completely.  And many of these questions come directly from Jenna herself.  I can't help but wonder how many choices we each make when we think and convince ourselves we are acting out of love, yet we lose the perspective to truly understand the ones we love and to act in their interest more than our own.

The best review I've read yet is from my good friend Liesl, which can be found on goodreads.

A quote of hers that I would use to sum up: 
"The hardest part of love, in life or death, is letting go."

And, a taste of the book itself (possibly because it resonated with me more than most):
"A bit for someone here.
A bit there.
And sometimes they don't add up to anything whole.
But you are so busy dancing.
You don't have time to notice.
Or are afraid to notice.
And then one day you have to look.
And it's true.
All of your pieces fill up other people's holes.
But they don't fill
your own."