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Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Snapshots: "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.

The Help is set in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, the deep South. In Kathryn Stockett's novel, a young white woman named Skeeter Phelan is living with her parents on their cotton plantation and adrift after graduating from college without either a job or husband. She has ambitions for a career in publishing, and decides to write the real story about the experiences of black women employed as domestic workers in the homes of the white community.

During this time in Mississippi and the country there is a lot going on: Freedom Riders, sit-ins, assassinations, marches, murders and arson. Skeeter is presented as being aware of these events but focused on her book, her dating life, her friends, and so on. Progress occurs with the book after Skeeter convinces Aibileen, a woman employed by one of Skeeter's friends, to participate in the project. Aibileen, who basically writes her own chapter of Skeeter's book, subsequently recruits other women to participate in the project.

The Help follows Aibileen and her friend Minny, as well as Skeeter and her girlfriends and family during the period in which the book is being written, and then when it is published (anonymously, with names and locations changed). Over the course of the book, Skeeter wakes up to the violence that is going on in her world; and then jets off to live her life elsewhere.

Given the topic and setting of this novel the question must be asked: Is The Help good literature? Is it yet another great work by yet another Southern writer? Well, no. There isn't real intellectual power in Stockett's writing. And there are elements to the story that, when you sit back and think about it, seem pointless. The Help is, however, extremely readable. If you are looking for a book to rip through over a weekend, this is it.

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