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'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett - a book review
I received "The Help" as a belated Christmas present last year, just as I was finishing another. great read. After I started it, I literally could not put it down (except for that pesky work thing.) Which is high praise. Ms. Stockett draws complex characters and does a stellar job of invoking southern black dialect along with the white pejorative lingual taxonomy that is critical to keeping things the way white folks want them kept. The story takes place during the racial unrest of the early 60's as 'Skeeter', a member of the white privileged citizenry of Jackson, returns to the bosom of her white family after graduating from 'Ol Miss. She is unmarried, unemployed and determined to make a mark in a world that has circumscribed how young southern ladies out to act and what they ought to want. Her mother, who has cancer, is eager to get her daughter married to a suitable provider.
Determined to be a writer, Skeeter finds employment writing the housekeeping advice column for the local newspaper. This position leaves her vastly underemployed and with the impossible task of answering questions about something she has never done. Housework. In search of simple answers, she interviews her friend's 'help' and crosses a chasm that will lead her to a larger project with bigger questions as she collaborates with the housekeeper of one of her life-long friends to write a story not about housework, but about the women who have cleaned up after the prominent southern families for decades if not centuries. We are introduced into a world where black women raise white children and know everything about their white families while the white women who employ them know next to nothing about the families of their 'help' nor do they care to. As Skeeter digs deeper into this project, she also uncovers the devastating secret of her beloved Constantine's disappearance from her family's home while she was away at 'Ol Miss.
Tension builds in Jackson when civil rights activist Medgar Evers is gunned down in his own driveway in full view of his children by a member of the White Citizens Council. Ms. Stockett captures this tension and weaves it into her story about the plucky young writer and the courageous black women who vow to tell their story regardless of the repercussions. Ms. Stockett also knows how to write the kind of interesting dialogue that plays out so well on the big screen. Now a major motion picture, "The Help" stars a relatively unknown cast lead by Emma Stone, with Viola Davis (primarily a stage actress), Octavia Spencer (Being John Malkovich), and Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life). It is also available in DVD and is well worth the Red Box rental price.