Nancy Corbett


The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

The Help, a debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, has hit the ground running. It's one of those books that enter the shelves with a buzz in the air. For good reason. I couldn't put it down. The characters jump off the page and sit in the room with me. Stockett is gifted at bringing characters into focus through small gestures and mannerisms. She has built characters I hated, ones I loved, ones that made me laugh or cry.

The Help is the story of two black maids and a white woman in 1960s Mississippi, who embark on a project to write a book describing what it's like to be a black maid to a white family in the South. The fear is palpable, and several events transpire during the development of their project that bring home the types of consequences the black women could expect, if they were found out. They never waver from the project, and their stories are told, stories of petty prejudice, of raising and loving white children whose parents are not interested in parenting, only to have those children become the next employers.

The book also emphasizes the difference between the way a white man deals with transgressions and the way white women do. The men tend to use violence, where the women squeeze the maids out of existence. A white woman would first fire the maid, then make sure she doesn't stand a chance of being hired by anyone else. Next she would go after the maid's family, seeing to it that the husband is fired. If the maid goes to live with family because she can no longer support herself, the white woman would then work on unemploying those family members. So, the choices are, being hit in the head with a shovel my a man or being starved and humiliated into a slow death by a woman.

Like any profession that involves working for people, the employers run the gambit of decent to horrible. The book never flinches.

The Help is the best read of the year so far. And Stockett proves to be a talent to expect more great things from.

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams..." Arthur O'Shaughnessy


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