by Kathryn Stockett
[#53 in in my
52 60 book challenge]
I’m a little late on this one, I know. The movie made me want to read the book, but it took me several months to get around to it.
And then it took me several weeks to read it. Goodness, this is a long book. I listened to it as an audio book, and it was 18 hours long! However, it was one of the best audio books I’ve listened to. Definitely the best this year. I spent many an afternoon just sitting in my car, not wanting to turn off the story and go in the house.
If you don’t already know, The Help is the story of Skeeter Phelan (wow, that name looks odd written out, since I just heard it and never saw it), Aibileen Clark, and Minny Jackson. Skeeter has just graduated from Ole Miss in 1962 and has returned to Jackson, Mississippi. She feels stuck in her small town, going to bridge club and working with the Junior League, because what she really wants is to be a writer. She has her heart set on a job in publishing in New York, but it’s just not happening. Inspired by her admiration of her childhood maid, Constantine, and her queen-bee friend Hilly’s crusade for white people to install additional bathrooms for their help, Skeeter sets out to write the stories of the black maids in her town. Starting with Aibileen and Minny, the three women risk much in their project.
The audio book is excellent because each of the three narrators are amazing. I’ve seen some criticism of the novel’s historical accuracy and the dialects used for the black character (and not used for Skeeter), but neither of those bothered me. The actresses made the dialects work for them. Maybe it work better in the audio format than in print? Instead of nit-picking the historical accuracy, I enjoyed focusing on the themes in the story. The story telling was gripping and the pacing was appropriate. I was really invested in Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny, but also in the secondary characters: Stuart, Mae Mobley, Elizabeth Leefolt, Hilly Holbrook, and Celia Foote. There were a lot of layers to the story, something I really appreciated after some of the things I’ve read lately.
One things about the story annoyed the crap out of me though: the cheap trick of telling the reader that they can’t know something yet. Many of the characters have secrets, but they are constantly talking about how they aren’t going to talk about them. It’s just a cheap writing trick to keep the reader reading and it wasn’t necessary. It is possible to hint at such things in a less obvious way. Nothing drives me more crazy than people telling me that they aren’t going to tell me something.
Beside that little gripe, and the complaints of other readers about the accuracy and dialect, I think this is a really great read. I liked that Stockett surprised me in a couple of places…it wasn’t predictable, and I appreciated that. Octavia Spencer was particularly amazing reading as Minny Jackson and I can’t wait to watch her play the role in the movie (Stockett wrote the part of Minny with Spencer in mind). I will be going to see the movie and recommending the novel.