Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

My Help on The Help

on June 23, 2011


Like my fellow bloggers this week, I too thoroughly enjoyed Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. It was an engaging story with (mostly) well-developed characters that I grew to (mostly) care about. Nevertheless, I did have a few minor critiques that just bugged me about the book.

First, it took me awhile to get used to hopping back and forth between characters. I would just be getting really involved in a particular narrative when it would switch to the next character. I have a tendency to read quickly and sometimes skipped over the heading that we were starting with a new character. It would take me a few paragraphs of being very confused before I realized I hadn’t switched with the book. As I got further into the book I got used to the hopping around but I still found some of the transitions jarring.

My next critique is largely petty. I understand the author used various references to help provide context to the reader on what was going on in the broader society and when certain events were taking place. In a lot of cases, I felt these drop-ins interrupted the flow of the overall story. I’m happily reading a maid’s narrative when all of a sudden she’s talking about a man on television being interviewed about zip codes. What? Where did that come from? Like I said, I’m guessing Stockett used these references so the reader knew when things were taking place but the advent of Shake & Bake and the introduction of zip codes really didn’t help me at all with the timeline of the story. Call me crazy or ignorant, but apparently these little factoids seemed to have escaped my educational upbringing. Rather than helping with the timeline of the story, part of me felt like the author was using these devices in a “neener-neener look how smart I am” kind of way, which just annoyed me. I’m pretty sure that probably wasn’t the intent but it felt that way to me just the same.

One thing I did begrudgingly appreciate about the book was that everything wasn’t neatly tied up at the end. Did Skeeter make it in New York? Did Aibileen find a new job? How did Mae Mobley do without her? Did she remember the lessons Aibileen tried to teach her? Did Minny really stay away from her abusive husband this time? And gosh darn it, did Hilly finally ever get her due? I’m a sucker for happy endings. I like all the characters I grow to love to have their own happy endings and the villains to be properly punished. But in this kind of story, such an ending would have cheapened the overall story, because that isn’t how life works. Abileen and Minny were members of a disadvantaged class and Hilly had all the privilege in the world. Often enough, sadly, life has a tendency to maintain inequities rather than change them. Had everything turned out rosy for our protagonists, the book would have lost all meaning and cause for reflection. While part of me wanted the over-the-top happy ending, I’m glad it turned out as it did.

All of that being said, I did really enjoy this book and I will happily recommend it to others and perhaps pick it up again at some point in the future. I’m a bit concerned about the movie though. So much of the “meat” of the characters is revealed in their inner dialogue. I’ll be curious to see how the movie develops these characters without excessive use of voice-overs. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.


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