Saturday, April 2, 2011

Help Me!

I'm trying, again, to read The Help. I started it a while ago, then put it down because it was getting on my nerves. I've picked it up again, but I'm struggling. Seriously. I know I should be keeping up with what's happening in the world of contemporary literature. Maybe I will have occasion to teach this book at some point in my life. But I'm struggling. Seriously. The first problem is the way dialogue is presented. Despite the "pitch perfect voices" promised by the book jacket, I keep wondering if this writer has ever actually talked to anyone in the actual Southern region. Of America. More than that, have any of those people been black? I mean, I've met and talked to a few (!) black folk in my life. I've listened to myself speak. I've talked to my grandparents. They've been black their whole lives. None of those people use the be verb the way it's written here. It's random and weird. And, while many people--all people--in the South run their words together, nobody I know says, "I'm on" when they mean "I'm going to." You know what it sounds like in my ear? "I'mma" or I'm gon" or I'm gonna" but never "I'm on." I have to translate for myself every time I read it. This dialogue issue is what made me put the book down in the first place. But now I have another problem. A white character is relaying her observations of the maid's home. She describes modest decor, then notices that the only picture there is of some white child who used to be in the care of the domestic. Really? Again, I have to check this against my own observations. As a very young child, I was cared for by an older woman who had been a domestic. In fact, I think she still worked for the family on occasion during that time. I was in her house nearly every day. You know how many pictures I saw of herself, her husband, family members, church friends, and, heck, pictures of me?! Lots. You know how many I saw of the family she worked for? None. And she's not the only woman I know who worked as a domestic at some point in her life, but the story is the same. They didn't come home with somebody else's children on their minds. You know why? Because she was not in love with those people. They were not her family. I mean, how many pictures of your boss do you have in your house? It seems to me that this book is going in the direction of big ole, wide-hipped mammies (which is how nearly every black woman is described) who just love them some rosy-cheeked white chillun mo' than life itself, and just hope they'll be lucky enough to get hooked up to some good white folk. My eyebrow is raised. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in elementary school and just falling in love with the language and characters. Scout was such a spitfire, and I liked to imagine myself that way. I immediately recognized Calpurnia, especially in the scene when Scout goes to church with her. I could practically place myself right in that scene. But in this novel, I don't know who these people are. Perhaps the author does, since she's being sued. I didn't grow up in the 1950s, but things move slowly down here, so it hasn't changed so much that I don't even recognize the people. Sheesh! I pride myself on being Southern, but this book is making me itch. *I'm not sure why my paragraph breaks won't show up, but I haven't been able to fix it. Sorry!

5 comments:

heu mihi said...

I don't know the book (being completely out of touch with 21st-century culture, apparently)...and I don't think that I want to. That sounds seriously irritating. I'm sorry!

GEW said...

I recently met someone who sang its praises. She was Southern and white. Have you found any critics who liked it who are Black and Southern?

The Steel Magnolia said...

heu mihi: Don't let me discourage you! Maybe you'll like it . . . IDK.

GEW: I've only done a little fishing around regarding reviews, but I have seen people in the comment section of online reviews who identified as black and southern. Plenty of people are in love with it, so maybe it's just me.

Good Enough Woman said...

You know what I'll do? I'll download the sample to my Kindle and go from there. I think I'm worried that either it will annoy me and I won't like it, or that I'll find myself liking it and will, thereby, feel complicit in the problems of the novel.

The Steel Magnolia said...

I'd love to hear what you think! I will concede that, so far, I can imagine how it might be an enjoyable read. The phrasing has some nice turns and I feel like something's happening, even early in the book. It's just "not so much" for me. But I'm going to keep reading this time. And don't worry--I won't be mad at you if you like it! :)