Just Read ~ The Help, Kathryn Stockett (2009)
September 30, 2012 § Leave a comment
Recently, I’ve decided that my time commuting between my classes and my flat and my time before going to bed would be dedicated to reading something for myself, that has nothing to do with what I’m studying. Well, when I started reading The Help, not only did I read in the metro, but I also started doing so whilst walking the chunk between the metro station and my house and then a long time before I started going to bed until, a couple of afternoons, I ended up doing nothing else.
I found this book unputdownable. Because the story is gripping but also because, despite the harshness of the environment it is written in, I found myself yearning for more of the descriptions of these women’s daily chores, their pride in a job well done, their affection for the children they take care of and the people they love, their courage to make it through another day, almost unscathed. I wanted to hear more about the Mississippi weather and the gossip going through Jackson. Whilst the overarching theme was serious, the story was lively and even funny. It is perhaps wrong for me to say that, but I longed to be in this Jackson of 1962, to be able to actually have a conversation with Aibileen, Minnie, Skeeter and all the others. And because of that, I think Stockett succeeded. She made the environment she wanted to discuss palpable to the extent that I felt part of the issue she was addressing. I found myself truly caring for the characters and what they stood for and I wanted their project to work – I also wanted to know the impact it would have on either side of that town.
There is a profound humanity emanating from this book. Perhaps it comes from the author’s own doubts about ‘saying too much’ and ‘saying too little’, all at the same time. Perhaps it is because of the complexity of showing things as they are, without trying to make up excuses whilst also striving to justify how and why some things came to take place. Stockett manages to make you understand these characters’ different points of view – even the politically incorrect ones – in a quiet, modest yet powerful way. She doesn’t need to put a name on things, she just shows them to us. What I take with me is the deep, coarse beauty of the details in this book that end up pointing to where the crux really lies: the way Stockett writes about Lines, the unselfish way Aibileen loves Mae Mobley, the second Minnie finally pats Skeeter on the shoulder, the meaning of sitting next to someone at a table and sharing a cup of tea. The importance of noticing things.
The few lines where Stockett talks to her readers at the end (it really does feel like a conversation, or a confession) are crucial to the book – as crucial as Skeeter’s inclusion of Constantine’s story in her own – showing us how personal the subject is, but also how important it is for her to share it with others. There is something truly haunting about the prose of authors like Toni Morisson or Zora Neale Hurston. If Stockett was scared that she might be ‘crossing a terrible line, writing in the voice of a black person’, her style certainly has that same haunting quality. And like after reading these authors, I leave this book feeling humbled, deeply moved, and grateful that someone else had the courage to speak up.