The Kindle DX I ordered is galloping to the rescue today...
AND, for all the book purists (which would include me), this is a need, rather than a want. Post-several eye surgeries, I'm just plain sick of struggling to read the words on a page.
However, despite the visual challenges, I read all 451 pages of The Help yesterday. Clearly, the book held my interest. However, I spent last night pondering why the book wasn't as good as my nonstop reading would indicate.
What was wrong?
Most of all, I think it was the book's ambivalent tone. In brief, a white woman, Miss Skeeter Phelan--one of Jackson, Mississippi's socially elite--convinces a number of the African-American maids to tell her their story. What goes on in the homes of the upper crust? How do these women really treat their maids?
Though the book would be published anonymously and no locations would be given, the stories provide enough detail so that the premise (that the book could be received as being about Anywhere, USA) defies belief. Further, while having the book's source known might subject Skeeter to social ostracism, this is the 1960s in Missa-fuckin-sippi in the middle of the very tense civil rights' battles. For the maids, discovery would mean loss of a job (with no hope of getting another position) and retribution that could include being falsely accused of a crime (and jailed) or even being injured or killed.
Despite the underlying tension and references to violent events that do occur, the book teeters. At times, I was furious and in tears over the effing racism and the tragedies described. But Kathryn Stockett keeps pulling back. It's as though she wants it both ways. Let's divulge the incredible cruelty and violence that black people routinely endured, but let's also show the goodness of some white people and soft-pedal the whole thing into a broader theme, i.e., how difficult it is for two women in any unequal power situation to be "friends."
Nope. Sorry. You can't have it both ways. Though some of the women are kinder to their maids, they did not fight against the "separate but equal" indignities that included building a "nigra" toilet in their home or garage so that the maids' "nasty" germs would not infect them, the separate entrances, the substandard schools, the "justice" system that made a white accusation the same as proof, and on and on and on.
I don't want a book to make me cry and then pull back and say, "It's all right." It's not all right.
If you're going to write a book about this horrible time in our history - and in a country where racism is still alive and well - then do it all out. What these women endured deserves more. Don't put it out there and then pull back and use a Doris Day lens.
It doesn't work.