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.