I know this book hit fever pitch in the U.S. about a year ago, so I admit to being a little behind the eight ball. But in my defense, the film adaptation, which I have not yet seen, just came out here in Paris and my mom only recently sent me a copy of the book in her autumn care package from home.
Even if I am one of the last American women to read this book, the only thing I’d heard about it beforehand was a comment from my mom telling me that it would certainly take me “back home” as I read through the pages.
She way right. I loved the dialogue, a throwback to Faulkner and Twain. I loved the familiar setting, the iced tea, the porches. My great-grandmother could have flawlessly woven her personality into this storyline. I sympathized with the hypocrisy that runs through the book on many levels, which I fear still exists in the South not only between the classes of people but between the real and the artificial of everyday interactions; when Truth, Right and Wrong are ambushed by words like “proper” and “presentable”.
One half of my family lives in Alabama, in the very city where Ms. Stockett attended university. I too grew up in the Deep South, with a lady who came to the house each morning to “help” my mom. This lady’s name was Miss Fanny and I can still smell her fried chicken and fried okra when I close my eyes.
Ms. Stockett did a daring thing by writing in the voice of a black woman, even in 2011. I can understand the controversy which engulfs the book. Perhaps you have to be from the South to truly understand why such an endeavor might be considered disrespectful, although the author explains it well through the lips of her character Minny.
The book highlights the skeletons of the South’s collective closet and shines a spot light on its more devastating warts and errors. But there is still a great deal of good in the South. Their manners, for one. If you can find a more polite set of people than the Southerns of my childhood with their Yes Ma’ams and No Sirs, I’ll paint myself silly. Their charm and their cooking certainly top the list too.
I applaud Ms. Stockett for having the courage to speak her heart and tell her story. A story in need of telling.
Reading the book put me back in touch with the roots of many of my own personality traits – the desire for a perfect veneer regardless of the disheveled mush below the surface, the pain and guilt of dispute, the urge to smooth over and make good.
The storyline is simple. The voice, told through three main characters, original and refreshing. The language daring, although for those unused to such a dialect it may be off-putting at first. I even, being unwarned at the outset of the lyrical device, looked disparagingly at what I thought was a grammatical fault in the first sentence. What the plot lacks in complexity and unpredictability, Ms. Stockett makes up for in charm and novelty.
A cleverly written, heartfelt read, worthwhile for anyone who isn’t intimately privy to all the lessons of the American South. ♠♠♠♠/♠♠♠♠♠