This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, 2009, * * * *

In her tale of an aspiring white writer in 1960s Mississippi who decides to secretly compile the untold stories of black domestic workers, Kathryn Stockett attempts to work out her own complicated feelings about race relations in her native South. She throws herself into the attempt with gusto and gravitas, a risk that pays off to a point. Skeeter Phelan is a misfit, a 24-year-old college grad growing uneasy with the social hierarchies of home; the two black women who risk their lives and livelihoods to help collect the interviews she seeks, Aibileen and Minny, two black maids, are sympathetically if somewhat predictably, drawn while the the white characters have the least dimension. Other characters feel stock and could have used more dimension. There is also the matter of a white author writing in “black” voices. It is easy to understand black idioms as an aesthetic choice but the white characters appear free of the linguistic quirks that white Southerners have. There's also the narrative rut of downtrodden but world-wise blacks showing white people their own souls, leading them out of a spiritual wilderness to their better selves. The Help has much more on its mind than that, but it doesn't always avoid going down a road too well traveled  Despite my comments, it was still one of the best reads I had last year, and I have no doubt that a great movie will be made from this story.

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