Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Minny’s chocolate pie

I read this novel over the past two days. My book club will discuss it in mid-July. So many people have read this book; so many white women seeking to start a conversation about what, I’m not certain. Careful in critiquing the author. She worked hard, meant well, wrote her story, shopped it widely, and hit a contemporary literary home run complete with a feature film opening this August.

After finishing the book, I contemplated the publishing market, the print and visual media, Oprah and Amy Einhorn. I thought about that meat pie in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Yummy. I remembered back to 1962-63, black and white, black and white television, John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November, black and white TV images, all of them rather gritty, strange foreign race riots in the South. But they’re dim memories.

The Help continues the tradition of white literary ventriloquists throwing their voice into African American characters…Mark Twain, William Faulkner…with recent incarnations by Tom Franklin in his “buddy version” of The Help called “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” (2011) also set in Mississippi in the knowable past by some.

These and other books look good in the (slowly disappearing) bookstores together on that big table when you enter…sprinkle in some works by Twain, Faulkner (his literary geography of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi), Carson McCullers…y’all come. Yet I doubt the merchants will situate Zora Neale Hurston’s works (Their Eyes Were Watching God) nearby. This marketing huddle around The Help works wonders in the marketplace. If you liked this, read this…oh, and don’t forget your To Kill a Mockingbird. Why did they let Boo Radley walk? Southern justice…(great piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker).

There’s ample analysis of The Help out there in review-land; plenty of book junket interview clips. This book has me thinking about the book business (and film industry). Will the fresh-looking (by the look of its trailer) film capture the darkness of this book? The riots in Jackson? Will it include those gritty black and white TV clips of police dogs munching people? Or will this be a Ya-Ya-Sisterhood like film? Looks Ya Ya complete with a very marketable soundtrack.

Hilly consumed two slices of Minny’s “famous” chocolate pie. Munch on, America. It may taste nice but there’s a secret distasteful ingredient therein.


  1. My family decided to have a sort of book club at Christmas and most of us read The Help before traveling to Pennsylvania. I think the book was selected by my sister-in-law, a white girl & M. Div. who sang in an all black gospel choir when in school...

    I lived in Mississippi for four years.

    What gets me about this writing is the regular cadence of pulling out all the stops, whether the pie or an impossible number of commodes on someone's front lawn (and by the way, wasn't heaping them there a deadly risk to the black men the lead character enlisted to help her?)...

    I am bothered that this author thinks I need to be wowed right and left and wonder why so many people seem to think this is good writing -- maybe because their book club chose the book because another book clubs read it ?

    Stockett: "I opened my 40th rejection: 'There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.'"
    "In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me."

    "Kathryn Stockett ...worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years."

    "Stockett did phone-ins with more than 50 reading groups as well as visited more than 30 communities to promote her new novel."

    I read the Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood and liked it at the time. Read Zora Neale Hurston as a student of a black nun, my professor.


  2. correction: "because other book clubs read it ?"

  3. correction: "because other book clubs read it ?"