Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Help

I am feeling a little guilty. I have had a week off of work but haven't done a very good job of getting a lot of reading done. And, what I have read has all been 'adult stuff.' However, I read a GREAT, GREAT book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a debut novel for her that was absolutely wonderful.
Told by three separate narrators, this story takes place in the early sixties in Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen is a maid for Elizabeth, a white lady with a young daughter she has no time for. Aibileen's own son died unexpectedly and while she is still grieving his death, her life is taken up by caring for Mae Mobley, cooking and cleaning, and ignoring the different racial slurs she has lived her entire life hearing.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is also a maid who has just been fired when the story begins. She is known for her mouth which doesn't serve her very well in the segregated south. When she loses her job and cannot find one it is Aibileen who helps her on her job hunt. She secures a position with Celia, a woman who married up in the world and isn't accepted by the rest of the social set her husband belongs to. Celia doesn't seem to understand the barriers between herself and Minny, and continues to work hard to fit in in her new life.
Miss Skeeter (Eugenia), is a white woman just graduated from college who has moved back to Jackson. Miss Skeeter wants nothing more than to get a job somewhere as a writer. When her job application for an editor position in New York is turned down, she is contacted by Elaine Stein who had looked over her resume. Stein encourages Skeeter to think of what she wants to write about. While her initial list of ideas is rejected, after much thought, Skeeter decides to write a book from the black woman's perspective of what it is like to work for white women. This is a dangerous undertaking in Jackson during the sixties and the maids she finally coaxes to agree to this must all work with her in great secrecy. As the project unfolds it is perhaps more than Skeeter bargained for and she is forced to examine her own life as someone who grew up with a maid, and the lives of her friends and their racial views.
There is so much more to this story I could include: Skeeter's love life, the relationship with her mother, the mystery of what happened to the woman who raised Skeeter and then left abruptly before Skeeter could say goodbye, Minny's abusive husband, Celia's secrets....Stockett has created a story with such depth that I have struggled all week with exactly what to say about it. This is perhaps the best book I have read all year and one I highly recommend.

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