Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

This summer has basically played out like a summer reading list for me. It seems everywhere I go, I go with book in hand. Everything I've done has been marked by what book I'm reading. Therefore, I've decided to review a non-Pulitzer winner.

The Help
begins in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. Skeeter has just come home from graduating college to find the maid who raised her, Constantine, has been fired. Aibileen is looking after a new white child while still grieving over the loss of her own son. Minny has just lost another job and fears she won't find another because of her reputation for speaking her mind.

Skeeter begins to find herself silently questioning her two lifelong best friends. How they raise their children, how they gossip about their friends, how they treat their colored maids. But most of all, she wants to find a way out of her mother's house. She wants to move to New York City and become a writer. When the editor of a publishing company in New York suggests she begins writing for her local newspaper, Skeeter finds herself as the author of a housekeeping advice column. A subject about which she knows nothing about. Enter Aibileen, Skeeter's best friend's maid.

Aibileen reluctantly begins to help Skeeter with her column. It is around this time that Skeeter slowly realizes what she should really write about; what it is like to be a colored maid in the deep south. But who will talk to her? When Skeeter's best friend, Hilly, does something terribly inexcusable, all the maids in town volunteer to talk. Though they meet in secret and remain anonymous, each live in fear of being found out and rightfully so. One maid's young grandson is brutally beaten and left blind for accidentally using a white bathroom, there are rumors of people's tongues being cut out and a prominent member of the NAACP is shot in front of his family on his front lawn.

Stockett's writing is so incredibly personal, accessible and informal. Her characters are real, concrete. I found myself gasping when Hilly's maid, Yule May, steals a ring to send her twin boys to school, "Of course, now, neither of my boys will go to college", laughing when Minny describes the "Terrible Awful" trick she plays on Hilly, "...and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her", crying when Skeeter's friend tells her she knows her maid is in the book, "When I read what she wrote about me...I've never been so grateful in my life."

Stockett writes from three different perspectives, each so clear and distinct I can hear Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny speaking in the back of my mind. It's as if they are old friends, calling me to fill me in on their day at work.

A professor once told me the purpose of theater is to make us think about things. To make us want to shake up things, change the status quo. After reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I have resolved that rule applies to books, too. It made me think about how I treat other people, it made me wonder if I could ever be a Hilly, wonder if I could be Hilly's friend. Most of all, it made me wonder if I could do what Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny and all those other maids did. Would I care enough? Would I be brave enough?

And since I am technically challenged and couldn't figure out how to upload a video on here, this is a link to the movie trailer, it's due out in August, just in time for my birthday: The Help movie

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides (2003)

So, I'll be the first to admit it. I'm really awful at starting things and finishing them. And I'm trying to not let that happen here, folks. That's why, upon the challenge of a friend last week, I am reviving my abandoned blog.

Here goes.

Middlesex is the story of Calliope Stephanides, a hermaphrodite born of Greek descent in Detroit. Cal is living in present day but he (formally known as she) is telling the story of his lineage starting with his grandparents' exodus from Greece during World War I.

His grandparents, Lefty and Desdemona, immigrate to Detroit at the height of its economic boom. Lefty and Desdemona move in with a cousin, Lina, and her husband, learn English and settle into their new American lives. They get jobs, they have children.

The kicker? Lefty and Desdemona are brother and sister. Then their son marries his first cousin once removed.

Yup, you read it right. The Stephanides family is screwed up. The twisted thing here being that Lefty and Desdemona fled Greece when the Turks were burning their city and country to the ground. They left everything they knew behind, including their brother/sister relationship. They got married on the boat to Ellis Island. They told no one except for their cousin, Lina, with whom they moved in. She had her own dirty secret to keep.

I have not finished the book, so I can't tell you how it ends yet. But I can tell you this book did not start off so well in my opinion. My mom bought and read it before me and told me she thought it was hilarious. It did seem incredibly boring to me at the beginning. But it has won me over. Cal, who narrates the story, does so seamlessly and flawlessly. The language he uses is so beautiful, I have to stop every couple of pages to get a pen and underline similes and metaphors.

Cal's voice is so littered with good-natured sarcasm sometimes it's hard to tell if he is bitter about his situation or just thinks his grandparents are crazy. I've come to love Lefty, Desdemona, Lina, Milton, Tessie, and most of all, Cal.

I can't wait to finish Middlesex.