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Summer Blockbuster In All Mediums: The Help

abstract:The Help by Karen Stock Stockett is one of those books that you see on the NYT Bestsellers list for over 100 weeks, is translated into 5 languages and sells 5 million copies (so far), gets adapted into a summer film feature blockbuster with rumors of Academy Award nominations that you go to see with your entire book club and have to push past all the other women in the audience seated with their book club. When you hear The Help is the author's break out novel and that it was turned down by 60 literary agents before finally being picked up by the apparently clairvoyant Susan Ramer you want to cheer. My 20-year-strong book group (who've carried on without me through thick and thin) picked this book for our summer read and I have to say that the plot originally did not move me: set in the 60s during the civil rights movement it exposes the bigotry, cruelty and injustices of the White Southern society toward the one-generation-removed-from-slavery African American residents who work for them as domestics and laborers. I felt I "knew" that part of history and that we'd covered "that topic" before in books like Life of Bees or The Color Purple. However, as with all bestsellers, there's more to it than just plot. We fall in love with the characters, we see raw truths in their behavior and we are reminded to be scrupulous in our own relationships and to respect the past.

The story is set in Jackson Mississippi and narrated by three voices: Abileen Clark who has spent her life raising 14 white babies with tender love and respect despite the tragic mistreatment of her only son; Minny Jackson, the chocolate pie (with that secret ingredient) baking Black housekeeper that talks back to her bosses and lands a job on the outside of town working for the good but troubled white outcast of the ladies circle. Lastly there is Eugena "Skeeter" Phelan, a headstrong young White woman who champions "the help" by teasing out their stories (with considerable risk to them, given the period) in the intension of exposing the injustices she sees in her town and her effort to break into the publishing world. She hooks her editor with the line, "These women raise white children; we love them and they love us. But they can't even use the toilets in our houses." Most poignant is the reciprocated affections between the Black nannies and the white children they raise, contrasted with the surly vindictive all-powerful Whiter matrons, a metaphor for race relations of the times.

Pick up the book in paper, digital or audio version and grab your bf's to catch the movie in theatre before summer's end. (Trailer)


August 18, 2011



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