Tag Archives: the help

Different Perspectives on THE HELP

I read a great post tonight on Amy Reads about The Help (the book and the movie, which I compared in this post). Amy’s post is about the importance of historical accuracy and the need to get multiple perspectives in order to have a true sense of what happened during a particular era. She links to a few other posts that talk about why The Help is misleading and one-sided, and she is participating in a reading challenge based on a reading list suggested by the Association of Black Women Historians.

If you’ve read The Help, seen the movie, or done both or neither and are just curious about the issues they raise, I highly recommend Amy’s post.

Book vs. Movie: “The Help”

Thehelp At BlogHer, I was given the opportunity to see a preview of the upcoming movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read The Help in spring 2010, about a year after it seemed that most people had read it, and I liked it. (Here’s my review of The Help.) For the uninitiated, The Help is about the relationship between black domestics and white employers in the South in the 60s, told through the perspective of black maids and a young white woman who decides to help them tell their story.

I found the subject matter extremely compelling, and was glad that Stockett had taken it on. My main complaints about The Help were, first, that I felt that Stockett had added some gimmicks and plot twists to the book that were totally unnecessary and detracted from the power of the story itself, which needed no such embellishments; and second, that it read like a screenplay, rather than a piece of historic fiction, and that Stockett "had the inevitable movie adaptation in mind while she was writing".

So now, it is a screenplay. The Help, which just opened nationwide, is a faithful screen adaption of Stockett’s book. But the movie was better than the book. Stockett wrote the black women’s sections in their voices, mimicking their diction, which I found distracting. In the movie, that distraction is gone. The performances were beautiful – from Aibileen’s dignified veneer masking her simmering anger to Skeeter’s awkward earnestness, the movie was pitch perfect. Great casting too – Bryce Dallas Howard’s despicable Hilly, Octavia Spencer as Minny, Viola Davis’s Aibileen and Emma Stone (looking about as gawky as possible for such a lithe beauty) as Skeeter – these were exactly the people I had in mind when I read the book.

The movie does a beautiful job of capturing the deep injustices of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, with lush Southern estates contrasted with the working class houses to which the domestics wearily trudge each evening after a day spent wearing maid’s uniforms and panty hose in those same estates. The details of the movie were perfect, from the white women’s bridge games and Junior League benefits, with their floral pastel dresses and starchily coiffed hair, to the black churches and city buses.  There are a few violent scenes in the book, but they are not shown onscreen, which this movie wimp appreciated.

Overall, I found the movie of The Help to be an improvement over the book, which was admittedly already a good one. If you haven’t read The Help, either because you were put off by the hype or just haven’t gotten to it, I’d highly recommend the movie, which on its own is excellent. If you have read The Help, I suspect you’ll love the movie, either because you’ll find it a faithful interpretation of one of your favorite reads, or, like me, you’ll find it to be even better than the book.

Advantage: movie.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

The-help So I finally read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I may be the last person in America to read this book. And while reviewing it feels akin to reviewing something as universally beloved as say, spring, I will take a stab at it.

If you've been living under a rock, The Help is about the relationship between black domestics and white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s. There are three rotating narrators: Aibileen, an older, gentle black woman who has been working for white families for years; Minny, a younger black woman and Aibileen's best friend, who has lost many maid jobs due to her hot temper and sharp tongue; and Skeeter, a young white woman awakening to the civil rights movement and her hometown's racist legacy.

In many ways, The Help is a very compelling book. I found its theme – the complicated ways in which white and black women related to each other during that particular period of history – to be painful, fascinating, and thought-provoking. I love that Stockett took this on, and I love that this book has become a bestseller. It's a page-turner, full of suspense and a few surprises.

My complaint about The Help is… it felt a little contrived at times. Some of the plot twists were just a little too convenient and fit a bit too neatly into the plot. I feel like Stockett had the screenplay for the inevitable movie adaptation in mind while she was writing. As a result, it felt at times like I was reading a script, rather than a piece of historical fiction. The subject matter was compelling enough that Stockett didn't need to rely on gimmicks – a little understatement would have gone a long way.

So my feeling about this book is – it's not perfect, but it is a great read, and a worthwhile topic, and mostly deserving of the heaps of praise it has gotten.

Top Books of the Year – 2009

A lot of sites/papers have come out with their lists of the top books of the year. Here are a few of the ones I have seen:

  • You can also browse The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2009. I was happy to see Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (which I wrote about here), Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann (which I wrote about here), and Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (which I wrote about here) on the list, and I was intrigued by the blurb about Penelope Lively's Family Album ("It’s the slow, inexorable way everyone comes to acknowledge the suppressed event
    at the heart of this domestic novel that makes it quietly devastating."). Maybe someday I will actually read some of these books.
  • Flashlight Worthy Books' Best Books of 2009 as selected by readers. Noteworthy: Sag Harbor again and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I finally own, thanks to my husband who gave it to me for Hanukah! Hope to start it soon. And while you're there, check out the Best Book Club Selections of 2009 as chosen by "Great Book Bloggers", including me!
  • Here's Amazon's Top 10 List, which is topped by Let The Great World Spin. And here's the Top 100 (lots of familiar titles on this list, including The Help and Andre Agassi's Open, which for some reason I want to read).
  • And finally, my beloved Entertainment Weekly's The Best Fiction (sneaky EW won't post the whole list online – you have to have the print version), which includes The Help, Await Your Reply, Let the Great World Spin and This is Where I Leave You.

Whew. That was a lot of links!

So, EDIWTB readers, what are your picks for the best books of 2009? Please share them here.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I've read a few glowing reviews recently of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. The description from Amazon sounds a bit cheesy, but the reviews I've read have been unanimously, unequivocally positive. Here's the blurb:

Stockett Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

NOW…check out these reviews:

From Booking Mama: "I'm having a very hard time writing this review for The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I think it's because I absolutely adored every page of the marvelous novel and don't know how to express it. I'm worried that I'll start gushing about the storyline, the characters, the writing, etc. and that I won't be able to express myself coherently. But this book really is worthy of some major gushing – The Help is definitely going to be on a lot of 'Best of…' lists for 2009."

From Bookroom Reviews: "Learning how the three women come together in the story and how things will turn out, kept me anxiously turning the pages. The Help is about hope, loss, bravery, fear, change and love. I think you will not only learn from these incredible characters, but you will also wish they were your friends."

From The Book Lady's Blog: "The Help is addictively, compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down.  Stockett’s debut is well-written, and it is clear that she really understands Southern life and has made great efforts to understand what life was like for black women who served white families. She presents sad stories that leave a great glimmer of hope, and though she examines our differences and our mistakes, she highlights our humanity to wonderful effect.  And while this is a serious book, it also has wonderfully lighthearted moments, humorous moments, and strikingly funny insights into women and their behavior. I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. This is a wonderful first novel that hints at the promise of a very bright career. 5 out of 5."

Entertainment Weekly says: "When folks at your book club wonder what to read next month, go on and pitch this wholly satisfying novel with confidence. A-"

Wow. I could list 20 more just like that. Sounds like a book I have to read.