Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help

Alright peeps! It's Book Review Wednesday.  I just made that up.  I probably won't do this every Wednesday.  But for now, let's pretend that this is a regular thing.  Ahem.


A couple weeks ago I snatched up The Help by Kathryn Stockett as soon as my wife had finished it.  If you haven't read it, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers at all cost because I really think you should pick this one up.  While I am definitely a Science Fiction and Fantasy geek, I can appreciate a cultural, semi-historical fiction novel with the best of them.  And on a personal note, I love the Civil Rights Era of American History.  Ever since I went to the hotel where Martin Luther King, jr. was assassinated in Memphis, I've been infatuated with that movement in our country's history. 

In spite of that, I was naive enough to be disappointed by this book.  I'll explain that in a minute.

First of all, the characters in this book are so strong.  I love a book with good strong characters: characters whose voices you can hear in your head as if they were standing next to you and shouting.  I love being able to imagine a character's posture, clothing, nonverbal communication, all of it.  Ms. Stockett has her characters DOWN.  I also loved the story.  The humor, the intrigue, the old Southern charm.  It was all great.

The ending, however, left me feeling empty and dejected.  I found myself wanting a more definitive ending.  I wanted the characters to succeed.  I wanted more justice.  I wanted more recognition.

That's when I remembered... Kathryn Stockett couldn't write that ending because it would require a complete change in history.  The Civil Rights movement wasn't over in a week.  It wasn't over in a year.  It didn't wrap up neatly and nicely in a tidy little package where everybody, all of a sudden, got along.  In fact, the ending I found myself wanting would have been ridiculous.

"Now, I know I treated you like trash yesterday because you are black.  But now, I see that was wrong."
"You're right, it was wrong.  Wanna play Gin Rummy?"
"Oh yes."

Yeah. Stupid, I know.  This story ends with a handful of questions because that is what the lives of these characters were full of during this time.  Questions.  Questions about survival.  Questions about society.  Questions about change, about solutions, about unmet needs, about fear, about anger.  Some of us are still asking these questions today.  Some of us throw a huge temper tantrum when an African American man gets elected president.  Some of try to mask our prejudices by hurling stupid accusations about birth location and religion.  Some of us have forgotten the journey that our ancestors traveled. Some of us have forgotten our destination.

It may sound odd, but after reading this book I decided that I am proud of our President.  Not because he is black.  Not because he is the first president elected to this country that isn't as white as the signers of the Declaration.  But because, to me at least, he stands for another step on a journey that I think is well worth traveling.  I know that wasn't the intention of Kathryn Stockett.

Still, we can learn a lot from reading about the past.  We see where we've come from.  We see where we are going.  I see where I am.

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