Sunday, January 29, 2017

the help

The Help is a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, later adapted for a movie of the same name, in 2011, with Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Emma Stone as Elizabeth 'Skeeter' Phelan. I didn't see the movie, but I do remember the movie doing very well, just as the book did. The Help was one of those books that made it onto many book club reading lists at the time.

Skeeter Phelan and her friends live in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, and she and all of her white friends have maids and cooks who work for their families, clean their clothes,makes the meals, wash their sheets and take care of their children: the help. The help consists exclusively of black women, who are not allowed to shop in the white supermarket unless they are showing for their white employers, or use the white library, or in some cases use the same toilet as the white employers while they are working in their homes. A divide that is extremely difficult for these dedicated women and their families, but its a system that is so ingrained, that the don't see a way out of it.

In the era of the JFK assassination, and Martin Luther King's speech in Washington, events which slip by in the backdrop of this story of a few families, Skeeter Phelan approaches the maid of one of her friends, Aibileen Clark, and asks her to take a risk and tell her story. The two of them hatch a plot to tell the story of how black housekeepers are treated, and try to publish it anonymously in a book.

This is Stockett's first novel, and I don't think she has followed it up yet, but you can feel the dedication and research that went into this novel. My first impression, after reading a few chapters, is that this type of story seems brave for a white woman to tackle, looking at this era from both a white and a black woman's points of view, but the I realized that its just the same set of feelings in me that keep me from being open minded about who can do what, because what is more important is that its done right; or at least as good is one is able. This book is a great effort to examine the issue.

This book is tense, fun, difficult at times, and helps insure that the story stays alive, and in our thoughts.

Read this book.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Moonglow is subtitled 'A Novel' but it reads like a memoir, my guess is that its somewhere between the two; so I guess you could say its a memoir styled novel, based partly in reality. Its almost as if Michael Chabon was able to determine a little bit about his family history, and found some of it to be intriguing, but not quite exciting enough for a memoir. Then, wishing there were some more interesting facts, or at least interesting mysteries, he began to spin a tale.

Of course, I could be wrong and it could all be Bologna.

What Chabon does pull off is the intricately woven, dappled, and complicated history of an American family, and how their history makes the inheritors of that legacy what they are today, whether its actually the author's history or not, doesn't really matter.

Chabon peppers the story with 'facts' that at least seem to give the story an anchor in reality, and of course, he's told the story in first person, stepping back and forth in time from chapter to chapter, some of them in the present day, or recent past, in which he (or the narrator) is a character himself.

The story Chabon has spun, centers on the life of his maternal grandfather, a German Jew, ex-US military intelligence officer, from New Jersey, who meets his wife at temple function, where she is being held out like bait in a bear trap by gaggle of women who'd like her to meet someone else. Actually the women are dying to introduce her to Chabon's grand uncle, the newly-minted, handsome young rabbi. Due to a slight miscalculation when the two brothers enter, its Chabon's grandfather, and not the rabbi, who meets his future grandmother. And it becomes pretty clear that the rabbi brother wouldn't have stood a chance.

The story pops between their early romance, his grandmother's history in Europe and her escape from the Nazis, his grandfather's work in Germany at the end of the war, searching for Nazi rockets, and his lifelong love of rockets and space travel. There are tiny details, tics, hobbies, loves, hates, tastes, obsessions, secrets, habits, and beliefs that makes us what we are, and Chabon has built his characters brick by brick by examining these traits and how they color what people do. This reminded me of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. A family history is built on stories, and Chabon has strung this family's stories together in a way which reminds us of our own, and therefore tells the story of all of us.

I think this book showed up on a lot of must-read lists. My oldest gave this book to me as a Christmas gift; thanks honey!

Read this book.