Last week I had every intention of reading Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky. And I started it but...meh. I don't know if it's because the book is a translation or what but it wasn't a great read. The sentences were short and jarring and the story didn't flow that well. Not only that but none of the characters were very compelling. I put it down and forgot about it. Sorry, Irene.
Luckily I had a library copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett around. Someone mentioned that they just loved that book so I picked it up. I very nearly put it right back down because the first chapter is written in the vernacular and I usually have very little tolerance for that. It is so often poorly done. Stockett, however, did a fine job. I suppose it helps that she's from the place that she's writing about (Jackson, MI in the 1960's) so she's familiar with the dialect. Anyway, the story is written from several points of view; that of several African American domestic workers and one from the point of view of a white woman who befriends them.
The story starts with some background and then outlines the experiences of several African American women who are the "help" and work in the houses of white women in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's. Stockett did a very good job of making this part realistic and compelling. I began to loathe the white women but was then made more aware of how they could be so utterly clueless. That takes writing skill, for sure. The book progresses as a white woman named Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, an aspiring journalist, decides to write a book of essays collected from the domestic workers. I loved Skeeter, although Stockett was a little heavy handed on the liberal guilt undertones of her character. Turns out Stockett probably modeled Skeeter on herself, so that makes sense.
I liked the way the end of the book turned out, not too happy and perfect but not utterly hopeless. I won't say much more here other than I recommend this book, for sure. It might not be high fiction but it is definitely a page-turner. It also really made me think about race and the service sector in today's world. Domestic help is a touchy subject for many reasons, one being that you basically let a relative stranger into a very private part of your life. You trust them with your house, your children, and what do you know about them, their thoughts, their life? It's an interesting dichotomy. I've only been on the domestic help side (I nannied in college) and it's intimate and strange all at the same time. Also, the race issues in this book are fascinating. I was thinking about them all day as I was finishing this book.
Verdict: highly recommend.
*Actually for real this time.