Sparrow's Reviews > The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
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Oct 21, 12

bookshelves: abandoned, reviewed, disturbing, punching-tour
Recommended to Sparrow by: Linda Harrison, Gibney
Recommended for: read Coming of Age in Mississippi instead, please
Read from July 20 to 25, 2010

I have this terrible, dreary feeling in my diaphragm area this morning, and I’m not positive what it’s about, but I blame some of it on this book, which I am not going to finish. I have a friend who is mad at me right now for liking stupid stuff, but the thing is that I do like stupid stuff sometimes, and I think it would be really boring to only like smart things. What I don’t like is when smart (or even middle-brained) writers take an important topic and make it petty through guessing about what they don’t know. I can list you any number of these writers who would be fine if they weren't reaching into topics about which they have no personal experience (incidentally, all writers I'm pretty sure my angry friend loves. For example, The Lovely Bones, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.). These are the books for which I have no patience, topics that maybe someone with more imagination or self-awareness could have written about compassionately, without exploiting the victimization of the characters. They’re books that hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize. The Help is one of these.

You’ve got this narrative telephone game in this book. The telephone game is pretty fun sometimes, and it is really beautiful in monster stories like Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights because what they are telling me is not intended as trustworthy or earnest. All of the seriousness in monster stories is an impression or an emotion reflected back through the layers of narrative. I don’t feel that way about the topic of The Help, though. In this book, a white woman writes from the point of view of a black woman during the Civil Rights movement, who overhears the conversations of white women. It's an important topic, and I don't want to hear it through untrustworthy narrators.

So, I can basically get on board with the dialect of the black maids, but what throws me off as a reader is when the black maid is quoting the white women and they’re all speaking perfect English without a trace of an accent. It becomes particularly weird when one of the black maids starts to comment on the extreme accent of one of the white women, Celia Foote, whose written dialogue continues to be impeccable. Who is this narrator? Why does she choose not to speak proper English if she can speak it? Why does she choose to give proper English to someone else who she has told me doesn't speak it? Also, usually the layers of narration in a telephone-game book are only within the book. In this case, it’s the author’s voice stabbing through the story. I am convinced it is her whose brain hears the white woman speaking TV English, and the black women speaking in dialect. It gives away the game.

Even the quotes from the movie have an example of this. A conversation between her and Minnie goes like this:

Celia Foote: They don't like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don't like you 'cause they think you white trash.

Celia speaks in a proper sentence, but Minny misses the "are" in the second part of the sentence. Celia says "because," but Minny says "'cause." If the reader were supposed to understand that Celia does not speak in dialect, that would make sense, but since it specifically states that she does, it doesn't make sense.

To attempt to be clear, I didn't have a problem that the book was in dialect. I had a problem that the book said, "This white woman speaks in an extreme dialect," and then wrote the woman's dialog not in dialect. Aerin points out in message 111 that I am talking about eye dialect, which is about spelling, not pronunciation, as in the example above. Everyone, in real life, speaks in some form of non-standard English. Though I have seen some really beautiful uses of eye dialect, as Aerin points out, writers typically use it to show subservience of characters or that they are uneducated, which often has racist overtones. If it troubles you that I'm saying this, and you would like to comment on this thread, you may want to read other comments because it is likely someone has already said what you are going to say.

I’m not finishing this one, and it’s not because I think people shouldn’t like it, but rather because I’m almost 100 pages in and I can see the end, and it’s failed to engage me. When a few IRL friends have asked what I thought of the book and I said I didn't care for it, they have told me that I am taking it too seriously, that it is just a silly, fluff book, not a serious study of Civil Rights. Again, I don’t have a problem with stupid books, but when it’s a stupid book disguised as an Important Work of Cultural History, all I want to do the whole time is tear its mask off. And a book about Civil Rights is always important cultural history to me. Anyway, the book becomes unpleasant; I become unpleasant; it’s bad news. If you loved this book, though, (or, really, even if you hated it) I would recommend Coming of Age in Mississippi. I think that book is one of the more important records of American history. Plus, it’s beautifully written, inspirational, and shocking. It's been years since I read it, so I might be giving it an undeserved halo, but I can’t say enough good things about it.

INDEX OF PROBLEMS WITH THIS REVIEW

"You should finish the book before you talk about it": comment 150 (second paragraph); comments 198 and 199.

“Stockett did experience the Civil Rights Era”: comment 154; comment 343.

“The author of The Lovely Bones was raped”: comment 190.

“The author of The Kite Runner is from Afghanistan”: comment 560.

"Memoirs of a Geisha is accurate and not comparable to The Help": comment 574.

“Don’t be so critical!”: comment 475.

“Have you written a bestseller?”: comment 515.

“Fiction doesn’t have to be a history lesson”: comments 157 through 162.

“Having grown up in the South during this era and having had a maid, I could relate to the emotional nuances of this book”: comments 222 and 223.

"Minny and Aibileen are relatable": comment 626

“You are trying to silence authors”: comment 317 and comments 306 through 316.

“Why do you want to read a Civil Rights book about racism and hatred? I would prefer one about friendship and working together”: comment 464.

“Why are there so many votes for such a half-assed review?”: comment 534.

“Authors can write outside of their personal experiences”: comments 569 through 587.
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Reading Progress

07/24/2010 page 63
14.0% "This feels really Ya Ya Sisterhood to me. I don't know if I should give up or not."
07/25/2010 page 85
19.0% "Not for me." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 756) (756 new)


Ellen I'll be interested in your thoughts on this book, Meredith.


message 2: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, I'm nervous to read it. Contemporary literary fiction, especially when the writer is writing outside of her/his time or place, is really the genre that gives me a rash. And I hate to be a hater. But enough different people have told me they really loved it that I want to give it a try.


message 3: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I see you didn't love it, but I'm going to wait to read your review until I've read it so that I don't go into it spoiled.


Ellen Oh yes, please wait until you've finished the book. You may well have a completely different reaction.


Ellen Clearly, I was in a patient mood the afternoon I devoured this book, but you would have been angrier had you finished it. You made a wise decision.


message 6: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, one of the reviews I read hinted at there finally becoming a plot and what the plot was (maybe it was your review, not sure) and I gagged on my own bile, so I thought it was a sign. It was really put-downable for me. Why push it? I could NOT handle the dialogue of the white women.


Ellen No, I was busy ranting about how Stokett tries to play it safe by sugar-coating the situation. It was insufferable.


message 8: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I got the feeling that they were all going to start getting together for coffee to dish about how lame the mean girls are - and then bam, sentimental ending. Maybe I'm wrong.


Ellen Not exactly. Stockett shifts from the incredible racism to trying to make it about unequal power relationships. She really does play it safe, and the book fails miserably. I thought it was condescending and insulting.


message 10: by Julie (new)

Julie Suzanne "They’re books that hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize."

I LOVE this critique!


message 11: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I don't get the feeling it was intentional racism, though. Just stupid racism. Not that one is necessarily easier to read when you notice it.

Thanks, Julie!


Britt Interesting review. I'm not sure I get that this book was supposed to be an "Important Work of Cultural History," though.


message 13: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow That's fair. To me, any book that takes on one of these topics is by nature intended to be an Important Work of Cultural History. Maybe I am giving too much weight to cultural history, but for me it's disrespectful to intend to write a throwaway beach book about Civil Rights. Maybe that was her intent, though. I just hadn't thought of it. I was actually thinking more of the Kite Runner when I said that.


Pdxstacey I love your review. I devoured this book, but to be fair I had a lot of sitting in airports and long flights. I got the uneasy feeling it was going to be a Kite Runner sort of book but plowed through it because it was more interesting than sky mall.

I kept thinking it was too bad they didn't have a good editor for the book.


message 15: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks! Yeah, I've heard that people have generally been engaged by it, though. Which is good. Better to enjoy a book than not, I think. Agreed about the editor problem. A good editor could have fixed the issue with the voices. Oh well.

Have you read Coming of Age in Mississippi? Again, I really recommend it. The cover's nothing to speak of, but the book is amazing.


message 16: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam Your review is very thought-provoking, Meridith. My Book Group is scheduled to read The Help next month and I plan on keeping your comments in mind while doing critical reading in preparation for our discussion. On your recommendation, I wlll try to read Coming of Age in Mississippi, too, for a comparison of styles & insights. Not having read The Help, yet, I hesitate to comment further, but I do think a good writer should be able to accurately & convincingly write from the viewpoints of characters that may lack any similarity to him/herself in reality. Whether or not the writer succeeds in doing so is one of the things that distinguishes a great writer from a mediocre one... and I'm sure involves the same ability that separates a person of empathy & imagination from a self-centered, ethnocentric egomaniac, for that matter. I'll let you know what I think when I've read the book. You seem plenty "smart" to me.


message 17: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, Pam! It will be interesting to see what you think, and I hate to prejudice people against it. I think I read these books wrong because I can't take the topic lightly, so having a light story doesn't work for me.

I'd love to hear what you think about Coming of Age.

I've been thinking about what you're saying about writers being able to convincingly write from viewpoints that lack similarity with their own. I think I agree with you, but I do think that a writer has to have some sympathy for any character's point of view in order for it to feel authentically represented. And some viewpoints are so unique and dictated by circumstance that they are harder to interpret if they're not your own. But I also think that a lot of writers (and I'm not faulting them. Who am I?) have a hard time identifying the uniqueness of their own viewpoint, which makes it harder to take themselves out of a story. I'm not sure if any of that makes sense the way I just said it.


message 18: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam I think I hear what you're saying. We like to get our info "straight from the horse's mouth", as it were (which is what you got from Coming of Age...). And I agree that it is very important to document first-hand impressions and experiences of any given period for historical and reference purposes, among other reasons. That being said, though, it is also true that sometimes first-hand accounts lack the objectivity and perspective that good fiction can bring to a subject and/or era. I almost always find a dry recitation of "facts" less revealing of "the truth behind the truth" (in all its many facets) than a carefully-crafted, sympathetically-drawn, insightful work of fiction. It is just so hard to see the big picture when you are inside it! That doesn't mean the voice of the person speaking from his/her own personal experience isn't valid! It is a crucial piece of the puzzle that comprises what we call "history". But a good writer of historical fiction should be able to put many pieces of that puzzle together to form an enlightening whole snapshot of a time/place/character.

Still, you are right. There are many writers of historical fiction who do not succeed in removing their own perceptions and prejudices in their works. And perhaps even good fiction should always be read with a healthy amount of skepticism and some research to corroborate its depiction of an era.

"Who am I", you asked. I'd say that you are a careful, questioning, discerning reader! Hurray for you! I wish there were more like you! May you live long and prosper.


message 19: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Right, I guess I think it's more of a problem to me when authors don't understand how their own personalities and personal idiosyncrasies play into the story. It's true that I do prefer to read history in non-fictional form, but I don't think historical fiction has to have the sense of the author jutting in any more or less than other fiction does. I was thinking more that it seems like a successful author writing a villain, for example, would have to look at the villain and identify with the villain's point of view and goals to some extent in order to write an interesting character. Otherwise, I think the books become about the author's judgment of people in the author's life.

I've definitely seen the problem that you're talking about, though, where the author is too far inside the story, writing something too personal, to have any perspective. That's terrible.

And thanks again for the encouragement! It's always nice to hear.


message 20: by Kardinal (new)

Kardinal Meredith wrote: "Thanks! Yeah, I've heard that people have generally been engaged by it, though. Which is good. Better to enjoy a book than not, I think. Agreed about the editor problem. A good editor could ha..."

I haven't read The Help yet, and now doubt I will, but the book you recommend in its place isn't the same category of book at all; I understand and agree that this topic is not one for light treatment, but then, having read the reviews of Coming of Age in Mississippi, I'm not entirely certain I want to read that book either.

Coming of Age is an important book, but from the reviews I've read, it suffers from no scarcity of flaws itself.

Fiction can convey truth with more emotional punch and reality than non-fiction. Can, not always does, just can. That said, based on your review The Help, and the reviews of others, I don't think I'd find it readable either.

I think about the general public and truth; the movie The Abyss, or later, Avatar, comes to mind. "Message movies" wrapped in candy and color, a light show, effects, oohs and ahhs - and a lot of fun. I don't mind and even enjoy my messages without the crunchy sugar coating, but I know that the masses won't see a message movie but they will see a James Cameron effects movie, a bleeding edge technical achievement and be utterly unaware that they're absorbing a simple but very powerful message.

Requiring more but still very enjoyable - Starhawk's "The Fifth Sacred Thing" - the message is far more evident but still wrapped in fiction, a readable "story" without reference to the very obvious lesson presented in utopian/distopian fiction - Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" - almost too strong, I had trouble reading it; wrote a paper on it in undergrad and it took many months because it hurt to read, but that hurt changed who I was - again, fiction.

Coming of Age doesn't sound appealing - not because of the subject matter, which be definition shouldn't be appealing "fun" reading, but because of the writing. A difficult topic more than any other had to be well-written because it is painful to read, it's meant to be, something is wrong with us if it isn't difficult - in different ways, but difficult all the same.

You've said that Coming of Age is "amazing." Do the issues that others have cited with that book not resonate for you, or are the absent in your view? Or, as you said, might it be your preference for non-fiction where history is being told/taught? I was going to pick up The Help; now I won't - but neither is Coming of Age appealing - I suppose I can ignore the reviews and read both, but it's also possible that both are (very, somewhat, moderately, extremely) flawed, albeit in very different ways.

Now I need a book to read as I can't ignore what you've pointed out and know it will irk me for some of the same reasons it bothered you, although history treated in fiction isn't - at least not at this point - one of those reasons.


message 21: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 01, 2010 11:53PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Kardinal wrote: "I haven't read The Help yet, and now doubt I will, but the book you recommend in its place isn't the same category of book at all . . ."

Do you mean they aren't in the same category because the one is fictional and the other autobiography? Or because the one was written during the relevant time period and the other not? Or because the one was written by a black woman and the other by a white woman? I'm not positive what puts them in different categories to you. The fiction and non-fiction styles definitely do read differently.

Do you think that people read books like The Help for the same reason they would read, say, a Shopaholic book? Like, just for some funny characters and a plot? That could definitely be true. I've never been sure. Putting a book in an emotionally charged setting yanks it out of the Shopaholic category to me, but that might be only a personal reaction.

Just to clarify, I adore fiction. If woman and writing style could mate, etc. And I do agree that fiction can be more successful at conveying a message. I get the sense with what I read of The Help that it, like Coming of Age, was more about conveying a sense of culture than a particular message. Again, I could be wrong there.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it's been about 8 years since I read Coming of Age. I didn't have the problems with it that I had with Three Cups of Tea, which I think is almost unreadable. I don't remember the experience being about the writing, but I don't remember the writing being distracting. From the reviews I read, it seems like the criticisms are that it didn't have a plot and that it uses "coarse language." Neither of those things bothered me, but both are probably true.

ETA: Maybe it goes without saying, but I would never guaranty that everyone would love any recommendation I give (unless, of course, they like exactly the same things as me - and I change my mind all the time, so that would probably be impossible). So, definitely smart to make your own judgment about any of my recommendations.


message 22: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin Meredith writes, "What I don’t like is when smart (or even middle-brained) writers take an important topic and make it petty through guessing about what they don’t know."

I have to start off saying that I loved this book, but reading your review made me look at it from a different perspective. I really enjoyed it (the review and the book!), and definitely agree that it is difficult to read about a topic in which the author did not experience. Still, the book is fictional, and still does have a good message. There are books that are written about real maids from the south (my mother-in-law is reading one) that would be worth reading after The Help, which is what I want to do and see how close the author is to being somewhat accurate.

Thank you for an interesting review!


message 23: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, Erin! And, again, I'm certainly not saying that people shouldn't find this book engaging. And I'm glad you feel that it has a good message. My intent was definitely, like you're saying, to say, "why not read a book about a real maid in the south?"


Kasia The Bookworm I thought I was the only one who didn't like "The Help":)I hate that author use vernacular...


message 25: by S (new) - rated it 1 star

S I couldn't agree with your review more! I only wish I had written it myself (the review, that is). I thought The Help was just crap. The only reason I finished it was because I had heard it was so good and I kept waiting for it to get better, but it never did. Thanks for your review and for your recommendation!


message 26: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, you guys!

Kasja wrote: "I thought I was the only one who didn't like "The Help":)I hate that author use vernacular..."

A lot of times I really like it when stories are written in dialect. Like Their Eyes Were Watching God, for example. It's great when it's well done. Here it was weird.

S wrote: "The only reason I finished it was because I had heard it was so good and I kept waiting for it to get better, but it never did."

I used to be really bad about doing that. I couldn't not finish a book even if it was terrible. Partly, it was because I HATE it when people say, "Well, if you had just finished it, you would have realized it's the best book in the world." Partly, I thought that I'd be missing out. Now, I force myself to stop because I realized that it's a waste of time. There are so many books out there! I still try to give them a fair shot, but if I hate them or I'm just in the wrong mood, I try to let it go.


message 27: by Kerry (new) - rated it 1 star

Kerry Meredith,

I really enjoyed your review of this book I hated. I took my own crack at explaining my problems with the book, but I think the publisher should be required to print your review on the back of all copies of The Help. Great stuff.

And: "What I don’t like is when smart (or even middle-brained) writers take an important topic and make it petty through guessing about what they don’t know." Perfectly nutshelled.


message 28: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, Kerry!


message 29: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam Hi Meredith. I wrote to you earlier and said I was going to read The Help (my Book Group's September selection), but would keep your comments in mind, and would also try to fit in Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. I have read both of them now and honestly thought they were both really good books, in very different ways. I think you should finish The Help, as I don't believe it takes the subject lightly at all, but you may have to read the whole thing to understand that. Yes, there were some humorous moments, but there were also heart-breaking moments... sort of like the way real life is. I'm sure even Anne Moody's real life included some humor -- altho very little was shared with us through her autobiography. If she had shared some humorous or light-hearted moments, would that have in any detracted from the seriousness of her subject matter? I don't think so. It would simply have let us get to know her a little better and to see her in a different light.
You have to also remember that The Help was from the point of view of an older generation of black women than Anne Moody... women who had not had the opportunities that Anne had, limited and difficult as they were for her to access. In Coming of Age.., she says... "I got a feeling that there existed some kind of sympathetic relationship between the older Negroes and whites that the younger people didn't quite get or understand." I think she was right. The Help's characters were a little more beaten down in spirit, a little more aware, perhaps, of their own mortality and the dangers inherent in bucking the system... just as it always seems to be between older and younger generations. But there was still a lot of spunk & courage left in them, as demonstrated in real life by brave women like Rosa Parks and by the book's characters, as we found out as the story unfolded.
My Book Group was lucky enough to have a guest at our meeting who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the '60s. She said she was largely raised by her family's black maid -- just like Skeeter and Mae Mobley were, in The Help. Her mother was one of those southern society women who was never around much and, yes, they had a separate bathroom for their maid's use... just like in the book. She found the book to be an amazingly accurate depiction of that place and those times.
I valued that the book showed perspectives from many different levels of that society. The author wrote the book as a tribute to the maid that raised her with so much love and was the center of her existence as a child. She wasn't writing about angry young people like Anne Moody, which in no way invalidates Anne Moody's anger or experience. It was simply not what the author was paying tribute to. What she described was something much more difficult to fathom than anger and bitterness in the face of cruelty and discrimination. That, anyone can understand, I would hope. She was writing about how some people actually managed to retain their humanity, kindness, and dignity in those same circumstances... and, in the process, enhance the lives of generations of children. Their actions and influence on children may well, in fact, have helped bring about the much-needed changes in that society as much as the civil rights movement. I don't know. But I feel fortunate to have been given insight into both those perspectives through these two excellent books.


message 30: by Sparrow (last edited Oct 11, 2010 04:50PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Hi Pam! That's cool that you read both of them. I think I felt more like the black characters were cartoons in The Help than that the actions they took were unlikely. I'm not sure if that makes sense. Like, it makes sense to me that a maid would bond with a child she cared for, but the internal dialog that described the process of that felt false. I'm okay with characters feeling like cartoons in a lot of situations - when they're side characters, when they're sparkly vampires, when they're in a cartoon - but, it bothered me in this situation because I take that topic seriously and I think treating people of other races like cartoons is more annoying than most cartoonish characterizations. I'm just saying it stood out to me in this book, not that I'm a perfect monitor of cartoonish writing.

I don't feel like writing about serious topics shouldn't include jokes. I think that this book treated the serious elements in a trite manner.

It makes sense to me that a white woman who was raised by a black maid would like the book, because that's obviously the perspective the author was comfortable with. I wonder, though, if a black maid would think it was an authentic portrayal, and my understanding is that many women who worked as maids were offended by the book. That's only from rumors I've heard, though, I'm not sure that it's true.

Anyway, I don't think there's any going back to the book for me, sorry! I have a tough time putting books down, but I've never given up on a book and then gone back to it and felt differently. That's not to say I'm mad at someone who did like it. It's just not for me.


message 31: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam Well, the characters never felt cartoonish to me, but I would be really interested in knowing how and why black maids from that place and time would react to reading the book. To me, the characters came across as really brave and, in a lot of ways, amazingly superior as human beings. Maybe I'll do a little research and see if I can find some documented responses from real maids...

But thanks for considering my point of view. And for recommending "Coming of Age..."! Hmmmm... I wonder what ever became of Anne Moody? (More fodder for my research pile....)


message 32: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Let me know what you find out!


message 33: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam There's a variety of input at this site from different sources within academia: http://www.h-net.org/~teach/threads/m...

However, I don't know how reliable any of it is. Sounds like she shuns the spotlight.

I didn't find any black maids' reactions (to The Help) from that era yet, but there were several comments from black people who were taken aback at first that a white person would have the temerity to write a book like this. They seemed to warm to the book, though, upon reading it.


message 34: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow That's interesting that Moody is kind of out of the picture now. According to this, she lives in New York: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/...

Not sure how accurate it is.

I couldn't find anything about maids' reactions, either. I found one thing that vaguely referenced her getting some hostile questions at a reading, but it didn't really go into it.

Thanks for looking it up!


Katie I don't believe it is accurate to stay that the author doesn't know anything about the topic. She, was raised very much like Miss Skeeter-- One of the leading characters. I thnk the perspective and the reaccuring theme, maids and how they raised and became attached to those children they raised is something she would know very much about. And, if you don't mind, what does this mean: "hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize"?


message 36: by Sparrow (last edited Nov 09, 2010 02:11PM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, I completely forgot to respond to this! Sorry I took so long! I agree that Miss Skeeter's perspective made a lot of sense. And I agree that it makes sense to become attached to children you care for. The voices of the maids just came off false to me. If they didn't for you, though, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Katie wrote: "And, if you don't mind, what does this mean: "hide lazy writing behind a topic you can’t criticize"?"

I think that a lot of contemporary literature (Jodi Picoult comes to mind, but also The Lovely Bones, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Kite Runner, and Water for Elephants) are about very culturally charged issues, but are not written in very thoughtful ways. It's difficult to say I really hate a book about a culturally charged issue because it gives the impression that I'm referring to the topic, not the storytelling. Does that clarify at all?


Jennifer "Why does she choose not to speak proper English if she can speak it?"

I'm not sure what you mean here. It sounds like one of your main problems with the book is the language used by the black characters? My family is from Mississippi, and I grew up in Louisiana and Mississippi, so maybe my perspective is different. Are you saying you think that blacks speak in their dialect because they don't know how to speak proper English? I am somewhat baffled that people really think that, if that is what you're saying. I'm no language expert or writer and not even an avid fiction reader, but I'm suspicious that your take on this might come from your lack of familiarity with language patterns in the south. Or maybe you have not spent time with well-spoken blacks in an informal atmosphere where they let loose and return to their casual dialect. (Not that this is a phenomenon limited to blacks. I do it, too, and I'm white.) I really enjoyed the language of this book; it felt like I was hearing the story from my grandmother.


message 38: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I was referring to the difference between the maids' descriptions of action and their dialog. It seems strange to me that they would be telling me an entire story with no dialect and then suddenly transition to dialect in the dialog. Why so formal with me? To me, it made the voices of the narrators ill defined because they were inconsistent.

I didn't intend to say, though, that someone who speaks in dialect can't learn grammar or maybe doesn't already know grammar, or whatever. It was just jarring to me that it transitioned back and forth so quickly within the story.

I'm glad you liked it, though.


message 39: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow ;)


message 40: by Jessica (last edited Nov 14, 2010 06:19AM) (new)

Jessica great review, Meredith.
Haven't read it, I suspect I will feel as you do.


message 41: by January (last edited Nov 18, 2010 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

January I haven't read this book yet, but it is on my to-read list. I will say though that my mom (who loves Southern Lit.) tried to read this book and didn't get very far. She complained about the language of the book as well...

Meredith, I loved reading your review! I will post back once I have read the book.


message 42: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, January! I hope my reading of it won't taint yours.


Paula I've just started reading this book upon the recommendation of several friends. However, my initial reaction is similar to yours. I tend to mistrust a narrator who "speaks" in supposed dialect. I'm alright with dialogue in dialect as long as it's done with 100% accuracy (I can't judge that here). I also already have the sneaking suspicion that this book is out to manipulate my emotions rather than show me something about history and/or human beings that I don't already know.


message 44: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, that was my impression. Obviously, people have taken it differently. A lot of times, to me, dialect has that uncomfortable feel of when my really white upper-middle class friend says "you go, girl!" or tries to talk like Snoop Dog. Awkward. I love Their Eyes Were Watching God, though, for example. But that's more the exception than the rule.


message 45: by Ishmael (last edited Dec 06, 2010 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ishmael I understand completely where you are coming from, and as a student of black history, I too was wary of the black-maid-written-by-a-contemporary-white-woman idea. However you write and I quote

'it’s a stupid book disguised as an Important Work of Cultural History'

I'm going to have to disagree with you. In no way did I get the impression that the writer was trying to convince us of her ability to adopt a black voice or present a piece of cultural history - or even an Important Work for that matter. For goodness sake girl, its a Penguin! Surely that told you everything you needed to know! I suggest 'God don't like ugly', it might better suit your intellect.


message 46: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Sarah-jane wrote: "For goodness sake girl, its a Penguin! Surely that told you everything you needed to know!"

Does this mean you think that Penguin publishes worse books than other companies? I looked at their list of authors to see if that was something obvious I've been overlooking for years, but from just a cursory look at the list, there were a lot of people I liked.

I guess, I feel like comments are kind of starting to repeat themselves on here, and I think I addressed the Important Work issue in a comment above (see message 13), maybe not very well. Just briefly, I do think that she hides behind culture (though probably not intentionally) just by making the book about a very volatile and formative era in American history. I think if someone writes about race issues during the Civil Rights Movement, she should be held to a stricter standard than someone who writes about vampire romance, not a lower standard. But I think a lot of books about volatile topics are held to a lower standard because of the topic involved. As I say, though, I just don't get the reasoning behind writing a lighthearted throwaway book about such a serious issue. It makes my brain hurt.

Sarah-jane wrote: "In no way did I get the impression that the writer was trying to convince us of her ability to adopt a black voice"

I do think that someone who attempts to write from the point of view of two black women is attempting to adopt a black voice. I don't know how to look at that differently.

I'll make a mental note about God don't like ugly, but, as I say above, in general I kind of steer clear of dialect.


message 47: by Graeme (new) - added it

Graeme Roberts I love your thoughtful no-bullshit review, Meredith! You have crystallized my feelings around this genre.


Colleen Mccreight I liked the book, but I am glad to see your review because I read the description of the book Coming of Age in Mississippi and it is going on my to-read list. Thank you for mentioning the book so others can see the title and read it!


message 49: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I think that's a valid point, but I don't think that's what was going on here. I think the author was picturing these women thinking the way that she thinks and then talking in dialect. I can see the benefits to that - as in, we're all the same, even if we look different, and in a lot of situations, the hired help is probably more intelligent than the boss (or not). But, I also think that assumes that smart people think in proper English, which I don't think is necessarily true.

As people have been pointing out on the thread, it's really more of a beach read than anything else. It's not very academic in any of the points it's trying to make. Much more ya ya sisterhood. But . . . actually, I thought the ya yas did the serious, depressing parts pretty respectfully.


message 50: by JJ (last edited Mar 24, 2011 11:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

JJ Oh I loved it! It was heartwrenching and inspirational all in one. If you want a real piece of history on this subject and this time frame (Civil Rights Movement), you should read: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Wilkerson. One of the best pieces of non-fiction I've read in a long time. Stockett cites this book in The Help too.


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