Friday, May 13, 2011

Stockett's 'Help' is Pretty Self-Sufficient

Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Putnam, 2009.

I first heard about Stockett's The Help through a movie trailer of its upcoming film (in which, I am told, an old college friend has been cast as an extra, which is fun on its own merits). Now, the film hasn't yet been released, but here's the trailer I saw, which caught my interest for many reasons (not the least of which was the time I spent in Jackson, Mississippi, where the film is set, as a college student):

What this trailer lacks, though I didn't realise it until after I read the book, is the emphasis Stockett places upon the 'Help' themselves. In her novel, Stockett relies on three narrators: Skeeter, Minnie, and Abileen. Impressively, she manages to make the voice of each character unique and captivating. The three narratives are superbly interwoven, the plot is carefully advanced and embroidered using this same layering device, and--perhaps best of all--the novel manages to be simple and effortless to read despite its complex and well-planned structure.

Stockett's The Help is not only a fun read, but a thought-provoking one: unlike most books I've read this year, Stockett's novel is layered in a way that allows the reader to skim the book as a light summer read (for which it would be excellent, both witty and entertaining) or to engage with it more deeply: Stockett's novel is willing to propose many of the hard questions about racial relationships and segregation, and the answers are as complicated as her structure and rarely pretty. This would be an exceptional choice for a book club, and an interesting supplement to a study of 1960s America. Weep, laugh, ponder, and discuss: this book allows all four responses, and marvellously so.

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