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
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