The Help

SnakOrange January/July

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The Help

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1Nickelini
okt 3, 2011, 9:37pm

Is there really no thread for this book? I feel like I'm the last person on earth to read it.

Initially, I wasn't very interested in The Help. It seemed like a typical book club/Oprah book to me. But then I saw the movie trailer, and I thought it actually looked quite worthwhile. I had recently read the very excellent South African book Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, so the life of abused domestic workers was a the top of my mind. But then the movie came out, and I read these reviews, and they gave me pause (I posted these back in our August thread):

1. New Film 'The Help' Whitewashes the Civil Rights Struggle into a Heartstring-tugging Hallmark Card: http://www.alternet.org/culture/152002/new_film_%27the_help%27_whitewashes_the_c...

2. The Terrible Awful Sweetness of The Help: http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/08/11/the-terrible-awful-sweetness-of-the-h...

It's my book club's selection for October, and while I was no longer in the mood for it, I thought I'd give it a chance. Well, I'm on p 182 out of 530 p, and enjoying it much more than I expected to. I can certainly see why it's earned so many 4 and 5 star reviews here at LT.

Preparing for my book club discussion, I went back and reread these articles, and one of them led me to a statement to The Help fans, written by the Association of Black Women Historians: http://www.abwh.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2%3Aope...

Very interesting!

I will be back with specific questions, but does anyone have any comments on these criticisms?

2lkernagh
Redigeret: okt 3, 2011, 10:28pm

Wow - I read The Help just this summer and didn't even think about it as an Orange read! So much for paying attention to the LL and SL.

Thanks for posting the links... interesting reading. I am going to take what may be a different tactic here, but only because you have opened the floor for discussion. ;-)

While I enjoyed The Help, I am willing to accept it for what it is - fiction. I don't expect my fiction to accurately portray circumstances and events - if I want that I will go to non-fiction, although eve that needs to be taken with a grain of salt as all history is revisionist in some form in the eyes of the author. I can appreciate that some reviewers felt that the story did not present all the facts and sugar coated the experience of the civil rights movement, but I thought the book still manage to present an interesting sociological perspective of the time period - portraying examples of some stereotypical viewpoints of the world that could very well be representative of some Caucasian members of society at the time.

With that said, I think Stockett did a good job presenting an interesting story that has and will probably continue to capture the attention of a large number of readers and movie goers. So it's not perfect. So it doesn't hit on some of the details that some reviewers felt should have been mentioned in the book, or lacks the punch they wanted a story on this topic to have. As I said, it's fiction.

The door is always open for any author to write their own book on the topic and tell the story they want told, in the manner they want it told. Curious to see if more books set in the time period hit the shelves in the next couple of years.

3Nickelini
okt 3, 2011, 10:58pm

Lori - Thanks for your comments . . . Having gone through all this tonight, at this point I'm coming down on the same side as you. Because of its mega-seller status, I'm reading this with a sharply critical eye, and so far, I have to say, Stockett is winning me over. It's just one story out of many possibilities . . .

4japaul22
okt 4, 2011, 11:37am

I didn't realize this was an Orange prize book either. I also avoided reading it for a long time, and probably wouldn't have read it if my mother-in-law hadn't passed it along to me. That being said, I did enjoy it. I agree that I don't expect my fiction to be totally accurate or all-encompassing. I thought that Stockett did a good job of presenting different view points on the issue while staying true to the time she was writing in. I thought the awakening of Skeeter's views on the lives of "the help" in her town was probably pretty accurate. She went from the selfishness of a child who loves her nanny/maid without thinking of her struggles to an idealistic young adult who wants to change things (maybe?) with an anonymous book and who has to face the truth that she doesn't like her own mother's beliefs or actions. She doesn't get to the point where she's fully ready to make a difference, but she's also not happy with things the way they are. She does what many people did in that circumstance - leave.

I was a little put off by the amount of employer/help relationships that came off as being positive. I think it would be more accurate if the book was a bit darker, but it also wouldn't have been a best seller!

All in all, I'm glad I read it, but it certainly wasn't one of my favorites of the year. I also have zero desire to see the movie. As I was reading, I was envisioning scenes made even more annoying by seeing them watered down on a screen.

I am not naive enough to think that after reading the book I understand what it was like to live in Mississippi in the 1960s. It was an entertaining read and I'll leave it at that!

5Nickelini
okt 5, 2011, 2:46pm

I finished The Help, and here's my review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. When I started it, I wasn't opposed to reading it, but I didn't expect much beyond a typical book club book: stereotypical, topical, and saccharine-with-a-splash-of-vinegar.

I was pleasantly surprised when, right from the beginning, I enjoyed it as much as I did. It's a compelling, page-turning read. I cared about the characters, and what happened. I cheered when things went well, and certainly got very angry at the nasty Miss Hilly. Sure, the characters were pretty stereotypical--the black maids were all kind and wise, or spunky and Mammy-like, and the white women were all easily recognized types of one sort or another. Still, it was a great reading experience.

As a literary work, however, it falls short for me. On one hand, it's great to see a book this entertaining that deals with racism; however, there was something shallow and artificial feeling about it. I've never been to Mississippi, and the Jacksonville of 1963 she describes sounds like a foreign country to me. I'm not one to say whether or not it's accurate, but it felt packaged--sort of like the town in the movie Pleasantville--I found it almost dystopian feeling (the haves lording over the have-nots; social critique, capricious rules), except of course dystopians are dark and hopeless and this novel is bright and hopeful. It felt to me like a neat little time capsule that readers can look at and tisk, "my goodness, wasn't that culture unenlightened and ignorant, I'm so glad we're not like that. I certainly feel good now." Hmmmm, really?

For a more "real" feeling look at domestic workers, and one that isn't quite to rosy, I recommend the critically acclaimed Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, by South African writer and activist Sindiwe Magona.

I'm also annoyed that Stockett jammed out on telling the whole story about Constantine. Her story is in there, but the author wasn't brave enough to tell it, and I think it's pretty clear that Skeeter never figured it out. That was a major disappointment.

So in the end, The Help was pretty much what I expected: a potato chip read. Lots of fun at the time, but in the end, not very satisfying.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Despite its faults, I was going to give it 4 stars, but I think the author should have wrapped it up around page 350--it went on too long with too much repetition.

Recommended for: like I said, this is a compelling read. If you're stuck with nothing but best sellers to choose from, this would probably one of your better bets. It's a good story, and one that deserves telling.

6rainpebble
Redigeret: okt 5, 2011, 10:13pm

Lori; I think my take on The Help was pretty much the same as yours.

This was a R/L B/C read for me and most of the women in my group had their arguments in regards to the fact that it didn't fly true to what is was like 'there' and 'then'. To me, it didn't matter. I didn't and don't care. It is a work of fiction and as such it is the author's story to tell. If you want the same story to be non-fiction then do the research and write it yourself or look elsewhere for your read. Non-fiction does need to be as spot on as can be.
I really liked The Help and for me it was a 5 star read. I will hang on to it. I will read it again. I will continue to love the book regardless of the naysayers and what they say.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
~belva

7mrstreme
okt 6, 2011, 5:37pm

Great reviews, ladies! I read the book awhile ago, and I thought it was very good, especially considering it was Stockett's first book.

I once discussed The Help with an African-American woman, and I will always remember what she said: That the book was excellent but had one flaw: No one paid. Back then, one of those women would have paid dearly. They all got off. Good point.

8Nickelini
okt 6, 2011, 8:14pm

Yes, Jill . . . that was one of the nagging things that didn't feel right to me too. But then, it's a feel-good book, so there you go.

9neverlistless
okt 10, 2011, 7:07am

Wonderful reviews, all of you! I agree. This was one of those books that I couldn't put down, but at the end I felt a little sick. I found this to be a great coming of age story of Skeeter - her new awareness of her community and the things she can do to fight back - but did not find it true to the women that was on the receiving end of brutal racism is in the south.

I try to keep reminding myself that if the book had been true to those experiences, then it would not have been so popular. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing though.

10sally906
okt 11, 2011, 11:44pm

I read The Help earlier this year and it just blew me away - was an amazing read.

I haven't seen the movie yet - always worried after a 5 star read that the movie will ruin everything. Those of my friends who have read the book and seen the movie say the movie does justice to the book. So I am waiting for it to come out on DVD.

11loresann
nov 22, 2011, 10:27pm

The book was great, the movie made me lol and wouldn't have traded the experience for the world.

12LiliS13
feb 9, 2012, 6:41pm

The book literally is one of my ALL-TIME-FAVES! Not even kidding! It made me laugh out loud, and the movie was amazing! (I love Emma Stone!!!!) I cried at the end....... so sad!
Anyway, the book was so great, and I totally recommend it!

13TinaV95
feb 14, 2012, 9:31am

I agree with most of you! I absolutely LOVED this book (and LiliS13 I also laughed so many times -- and quite loudly at the movie). **Let me add that I was sitting close to some African American females who laughed just as many times as I did -- and at all the same parts!

I was completely involved with the characters -- and cheered for them the whole way through the book. I also did not like the book's ending. I wanted a happy ending for them all (but I tend to want that in my fiction anyway). Jill, the comment of your friend is chilling and true. Some - if not all of these women - in real life would have had a large retaliation. I did not think of that, but she is spot on.

I am saddened by the naysayers and hadn't had any of these thoughts on my own. But, being that I'm mostly white (with some Cuban thrown in), I guess I am just naive.

Still, to me it was one of my favorites from 2011. A 5 star read and a 5 star movie for this fantasy loving, happy end-wishing, progressively liberalish white/Hispanic girl from the South.

14Jeanperry
feb 17, 2012, 4:25pm

I agree w/ all of you who said The Help was a good read, especially for a first time author and w/ those of you who said it is FICTION, not a history of Blacks in the south in the 60's.

The women historians wrote "During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women's employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for (the time)."

My MIL was a maid and then a "nurse" in the south in the 20's & 30s, & in the north from the 40's to the 70's, she had to behave very much as these women did. She was "compelled", she was "loyal", but she was not "contented" & i don't see the women in this book as contented AT ALL? Why should we have a story of their sex lives? Just because we don't, they are asexual? I don't think it's popularity has anything to do w/ nostalgia, i think it is a stirring, easily read account of these particular women and the reader has compassion for some and disgust for others. Well-done Stockett.

I was first told of the book by an African-American woman who said "you have to read this, it's tough to get thru in parts, but it's a great story." i read it w/ an integrated book group who largely enjoyed it. One white woman who grow up in NC in the 50's & 60's told us she knew nothing abt the activities of the civil rts movement at the time, her tv and newspapers weren't reporting it, so i think the little attention it got from the characters in the book is probably an accurate picture, even in Birmingham, AL.

If we want to educate people about the time, then we need to see that those stories are told and support them, not attack others who are attempting to do something else.

It's the best book i read in 2011.

15Nickelini
feb 28, 2012, 12:27pm

Just saw another fascinating debate on the film (and a little on the book) The Help. There's an interesting call to action for fans of the story at the end.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/melissa-harris-perry-the-help_n_1302275...

16TinaV95
feb 28, 2012, 5:17pm

Nickelini - thanks for sharing!