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 51-100 of 756) (756 new)


Nadine Doolittle 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.--

THIS. Excellent review. I'll read Coming of Age in Mississipi. I couldn't stand the very books you mentioned in your review either, and for the very same reasons. Cheers.


message 52: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Thanks, Nadine! Maybe it's one of those things that is difficult to explain unless you feel it yourself. I'll be interested to see what you think of Coming of Age. It definitely has flaws, and I haven't read it in forever, but I remember loving it.


Maegan To answer your question about how the maids can mock their employers using proper English, and why they don't always use prooper English is more an issue of culture. Think about it, people often use slang or speak with improper English in informal environments, at home or among friends. If it is part of your culture to communiate this way, doesn't mean that you can't or don't know how to use proper English, but it is not as confortable. I speak very different at work than I do at home--and improper as it may be, slang is a comfortable way of communicating with those with whom I share a similar cultural background. It, sometimes, becomes a cultural method of communication that may appear simply as broken English to others. I know I could have been clearer, but I hope this explains it a little bit.


message 54: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Maegan wrote: "To answer your question about how the maids can mock their employers using proper English, and why they don't always use prooper English is more an issue of culture. Think about it, people often u..."

Oh, that wasn't what I intended to say, but thank you. I hadn't gotten to a place where they mock the employer's English, but maybe that happens later. I had meant to say that the maid would describe the employer as having an extreme Southern accent, but the dialog of the employer would still be written in perfect English. All of the maids' dialog, on the other hand, was written in dialect. That seems strange to me whether it was intentional or not.


message 55: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita I like all the books you hate


message 56: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Ha! You are not alone.


Mindi I do believe the book is fiction so it is okay if things are not completely accurate.


message 58: by Rita (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rita Movie is coming out soon. Can't wait!


Susan Oh Meridith. Go write your own book so everyone can see how it's done. Are you from the South? Or have you lived there for an extended period of time? Finish the book. It's hard for me to take seriously any reviewer who cannot even give the writer they are reviewing the courtesy of finishing their story before a know-it-all interrupts with their "well thought out review." I especially loved your comment about the lack of authenticity of the dialect, that it was "just jarring to me that it transitioned back and forth so quickly"...read more slowly, I am sure you can keep up.


message 60: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 13, 2011 07:21AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow I would love to write my own book, thanks for the permission. I don't think not having written a book myself takes away my right to have a reaction to another book though. I have found that when I've finished a book just because people won't listen to me if I don't, I have two problems: (1) I realize I didn't really care if the person listened to me in the first place, and (2) I get even more annoyed, if only from having experienced more of a book I didn't like. There's no need to put either of us through that. There are too many books I love, to read one I really didn't enjoy that people defend by saying it's just fluff.

I am not from the South. Is that question meant to imply that only people who grew up in the South can have an opinion about the Civil Rights Era? Because I wouldn't even necessarily say that Stockett had no right to write about the Era, even though she didn't grow up then. I just think she should be more aware of her own perspective.

Susan wrote: "I especially loved your comment about the lack of authenticity of the dialect, that it was "just jarring to me that it transitioned back and forth so quickly"...read more slowly, I am sure you can keep up."

I'm confused by this comment. I was looking for a place where I said it jarred me that it transitioned back and forth, but I didn't find it. Maybe it's just my morning eyes that are causing a problem. I'll take that out if it's in there because I hadn't intended to say that at all. I was fine with there being dialect and no dialect. It was weird when she stated "this character has the most extreme dialect of any of the characters," and then wrote the character's voice with no dialect. I think it was because the character was white, and only the black characters were written in dialect. That bothers me. I don't think it was intentional, but I think it is an important mistake. I didn't have a problem when the book was written in dialect; I had a problem (in some specific places) when it wasn't.


message 61: by Jen (last edited Jul 13, 2011 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Meredith, I like you. And I like many of the books you like, and also like a few that you hate. I liked this one. A lot. But yes, I did have a teensy problem with the narrator (she was a stick in the mud). Unlike you, I did manage to get past it and really enjoy the story. But then, I like unreliable narrators, and prefer them, even.

Is it possible that the dialect problem was due to the publisher and not the author? I've heard (and I don't even know where so this may very likely not be true) that publishers by and large do not like to publish works full of dialect anymore, and consider it almost a crutch, or a hindrance to a reader, so they prefer to edit it out. I just finished Call It Sleep, which had a ton of dialect that at times delighted me and frustrated me. I wonder if older and more respected works would be published now, if this dialect issue is indeed considered out of style by present publishers. I wonder how difficult it would be to find out if larger publishing houses limit dialect in their style guides, for instance.


message 62: by Sparrow (last edited Jul 13, 2011 11:15AM) (new) - added it

Sparrow Yeah, that's definitely possible. It seems strange they wouldn't have chosen a black character to remove the dialect from. Or maybe there was a black character later who spoke in the King's English. And also strange that they would keep in the description of the character as having an extreme accent and choose not to write it. Dialect is tough, I guess. A lot of people have trouble with it.

A lot of people whose opinions I really respect love the book. You are definitely one of them, Jen. It wasn't really engaging to me, and when people have described loving it, they've usually described it as engaging, not as struggling with the beginning and then being rewarded partway through. Anyway, I don't think a person shouldn't love it. And, I'm probably going to watch the movie because Emma Stone <3. The movie looks like it has its own issues, but Allison Janey and Emma Stone = yay!


message 63: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen I tried googling dialect and publishing houses, but wasn't wild about the results. I did find this, though, and it talks about the use and abuse of dialect, but does not come from any publishing house style guide, but rather from an author blog:

http://beyondthemargins.com/2011/01/k...


message 64: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow That's interesting, but it seems more like advice on how to make dialect readable. I think Stockett was pretty successful at that. I mean, a lot of the book was in dialect - at least what I read. It doesn't really seem to me like there would be a good reason for a character described as having a really extreme accent to be written (whether as a publishing decision or an authorial decision) with no accent, when you are writing other characters in dialect anyway.

Do you know the character I'm talking about? It's been a while now, but it's the girl who was from the really poor family, who married the rich guy and then didn't know how to cook or want to clean the house.


message 65: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen I think I do...the Ellie Mae/Marilyn Monroe combo-busty blonde with a big heart- junior league aspirations without the junior league taste?


message 66: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow yeah, that one.


message 67: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen I guess I didn't notice the disconnect, or it wasn't enough to bother me. I've met people like that- that seem so cookie cutter that there really is no way to describe them without making them unbelievable. And there is the problem, perhaps. Maybe the author, like me, assumed that the characterization was enough for a reader, and that to extend the typecast into dialogue would be too much?


message 68: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen But it sounds like I may just be making excuses for why I like what may be a badly written book. And that is possible.


message 69: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I'm pretty sure it was just a mistake. But, I like a lot of badly written books, so I'm not saying you should abandon it, or something. I never know when I'll get hooked on a problem and not be able to get past it, you know? Sometimes things like that just get stuck in my head and ruin the rest of the book.


Susan Meredith, you're tiring, elitist, and ridiculous. It's painful to read your "expert" commentary about things, by your own admission, you know nothing about. Honestly, where do you get off calling any of these writers lazy, middle-brained, or anything else? Since, as you say, you've never written anything yourself (apart from these silly reviews)the view is pretty good from the cheap seats. Next thing you know, you'll start bashing the movie before it's even out--oh wait! "The movie looks like it has it's own issues"...and by the way, it's ITS.


message 71: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen Breathing in I calm myself. Breathing out I smile.


message 72: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Susan wrote: "Meredith, you're tiring, elitist, and ridiculous. It's painful to read your "expert" commentary about things, by your own admission, you know nothing about. Honestly, where do you get off calling..."

Well, I don't know where you're getting the idea that I think I'm an expert. I'm not getting paid to write these things, and even if I were, it's only my opinion. I don't intend to say that my review is perfect or even objectively correct. It is only my opinion. People can do whatever they want with it, as many people have very different taste than me. If you don't like reading opinions that are different than your own, this website might be pretty stressful for you.

Good call on the "it's." I don't think that me making a mistake means that I can't have an opinion about other people's mistakes, though.


message 73: by Aerin (new)

Aerin Susan wrote: "Since, as you say, you've never written anything yourself (apart from these silly reviews)the view is pretty good from the cheap seats."

Hahahahahaha! This cracks me up, because published authors write the LEAST trustworthy goodreads reviews. Have you ever seen one that isn't obnoxiously, sycophantically glowing? The circle-jerk culture of author-written reviews is fine and dandy for the authors themselves, but if I want to know if a book is actually GOOD, I'll go to readers, thanks.

Also, LOL at "elitist". It's so elitist to not like a book!


message 74: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Aerin wrote: "Hahahahahaha! This cracks me up, because published authors write the LEAST trustworthy goodreads reviews."

This is so true . . . but so sad! Because I MUST follow Felicia Day's reviews b/c she rules, but, sigh, she always likes a book. I think someone harassed her about it, though, once, which is lame. I could see the incentive to lie to make friends if you're a celebrity.

Well, and apparently there is incentive even if you're not a celebrity. er, sorry, an expert.


message 75: by Kemper (new)

Kemper I haven't written a book so I hope it's OK that I voted for this review...


message 76: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow That's a dangerous game you're playing, Kemper.


message 77: by Kemper (new)

Kemper Meredith wrote: "That's a dangerous game you're playing, Kemper."

I am also not from the South but once expressed an opinion about Gone With The Wind. I'm doomed, aren't I?


message 78: by Aerin (new)

Aerin Kemper wrote: "I haven't written a book so I hope it's OK that I voted for this review..."

I think you're fine. The way I gather, you're allowed to like something if you are not an author, but if you dislike something, you should ask yourself: could I have done it better? If the answer is, "No, writing is HARD, so who am I to judge?" then you should keep your dumb little opinions to yourself and write a positive review.

If the answer is, "No, but I would HOPE most published authors are better writers than me, since they are professionals while I have not devoted myself to the craft of writing; but I can still articulate why I feel the book is flawed," then you should JUST SHUT UP, YOU ELITIST.


message 79: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Kemper wrote: "Meredith wrote: "That's a dangerous game you're playing, Kemper."

I am also not from the South but once expressed an opinion about Gone With The Wind. I'm doomed, aren't I?"


I'm afraid I think you're beyond hope.


message 80: by Kemper (new)

Kemper Crap. I guess I'll sit here quietly and give five stars to everything I read until I get a book published.


message 81: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow And until you move to the South.


Jessica I appreciate the honesty of your review... but would the book be quite as interesting if the narrator WERE reliable? Which black maid is able to speak perfect English? I enjoyed Stockett's characterizations... I thought that she credibly made the differences between Stewert and Skeeter too blaring to keep them together. I thought that she stuck with the dialect throughout enough of the book for me to not be bothered by it. Regardless, I will read "Coming to Age in Mississippi" and compare.


message 83: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow None of the black maids speak perfect English. One of the black maid narrators describes a white woman as having the most extreme dialect of all of the characters, but when she quotes the woman, the woman speaks perfect English. It's the Marilyn Monroe white-trash girl. I should probably re-write that part. I thought it was kind of an obvious thing if I just referred to it, and I was partly just noting all of the review for myself, but I guess it's not that obvious.

This is to Jen, too. When you guys are talking about the unreliable narrator, are you talking about the maids or Skeeter or all of them? Who is Stewart? I forget. Maybe I didn't get that far. I didn't find Skeeter unreliable. I thought she was a direct stand-in for the author. I guess I don't care for the unreliability a lot here because I'm using the word "unreliable" as a euphemism for "racist." I do tend to like unreliable narrators in other stories, though.


message 84: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I guess I should maybe also take out the rec of Coming of Age. I realize that people enjoy this book, not so much as a narrative of the Civil Rights Era, but more as a fluffy, girls-just-want-to-have-fun experience. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my impression. And I like stories like that, too, so I'm not being patronizing about it. I just think a lot of experiences referenced in this book are truly horrifying, so to me it doesn't make sense to be lighthearted about them, or about the experiences surrounding them. But, Coming of Age isn't lighthearted.


Jessica I'm talking about all of them... even Constantine, whom we've never met, is unreliable through the letters that she writes to Skeeter. Should you choose to read the rest, I don't want to spoil it for you. Let's just say that Constantine isn't perfect, and neither is Skeeter in her naivety. Stewart is the man with whom Hilly is trying to set Skeeter up.

I think that the most sound perspective is written in Skeeter's voice because of who the author is. Therefore, there's naturally less horror depicted because of the perspective.


message 86: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh, no, I'm definitely not going to read the rest. That was the whole reason I wrote the review - as a reminder to myself of why I disliked it so much and not to go back to it. I started doing that because I've had too many experiences of people talking me into finishing books. I think I've ended some friendships by finishing books. Does not end well.

I don't think I got to Stewart. I saw that coming and knew I would lose a gasket over it. Not for me.


message 87: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Hmmm. So what I'm hearing from you, Brian, (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that I'm an ugly lesbian.

I was just reminiscing that it's been far too long since I've been called an ugly lesbian on the internet.


message 88: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Of all the ugly lesbians out there, Meredith, you are by FAR my favourite!


message 89: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Kat wrote: "Of all the ugly lesbians out there, Meredith, you are by FAR my favourite!"

AWWWW!! YAAAY!


message 90: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Ooo, good call! Kat and I were talking and saying how trolls keep repeating themselves lately, and you don't get the good variety like you used to. We should all make a troll hall of fame so that trolls can study up before they start trolling. That way they'd know if they're using a troll classic or a more nuanced troll approach.


message 91: by Kat Kennedy (last edited Jul 18, 2011 05:42PM) (new)

Kat Kennedy Mariel used to have a hall of fame for trolls. I'm doing a follow up blogpost for my GR trolls one so I was going to do some honorable mentions. I would be happy if you want to suggest some!


message 92: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh! Is that your YA one? That was great! I think I got interrupted while I was reading it, so I need to go back and like it. I think my favorite troll stuff is the VirJohn stuff, but I think all of his comments are gone now. Favorite response OF ALL TIME: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

I CAN'T FIND THE TAUTOLOGIES LOLVirJohn! Oh man! That's my favorite LOLVirJohn.

Other favorite troll-response comment: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 93: by Aerin (new)

Aerin Oh, if we're nominating trolls, my personal favorite is the guy who accused me of conducting a vicious campaign of lies to discredit Heinlein: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


"I'm afraid, Aerin, that your *eyeroll* isn't quite the weapon that you envision.

But, clearly you're new to the experience of having your lies exposed in public, so maybe an eyeroll is all you can muster under the circumstances."



Oh, good times.


message 94: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I remember that guy!!! He went crazy on someone else's thread, too! Isaiah, maybe?

Oh, and of course, semennacht. That was a good time.


message 95: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow I had no idea you had that kind of vicious plotting in you, Aerin. eeeevil.


message 96: by [deleted user] (new)

I liked the guy on your Soulless review, Meredith. He was awesome, especially because you liked the book, just not enough or the right way or something. And then when he trolled Elizabeth's review with an ill-disguised sock? Wonderful.


message 97: by Aerin (new)

Aerin >:) Yessssssss. I spend all my time plotting mean things to say on the internet about books I haven't read. TRULY I AM A MONSTER!


message 98: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh yeah, this guy: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

But, that one made me sad because I was driving while it was going on, so I couldn't participate. Alex was good, too on the Sun Also Rises, but the best part was when he PMed me and invited me to troll his reviews.

But, of course, Kowalski is probably the #1 troll. O the pathos!!


message 99: by Sparrow (new) - added it

Sparrow Oh yeah! I remember when that happened. I don't know the book, so it all kind of went past me.


message 100: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy I think Keely's trolls should get special mention! They're the trolls that just wouldn't stop trolling!


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