We met at Carla's to discuss Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Jolene's choice this year. To set the scene, Carla greeted us in uniform...with a long white apron covering a black dress. Her chicken-cucumber appetizers and brie cheese with edible flowers were wonderful, and she topped the evening off with some "terrible awful" chocolate pie. Carla, Beth, Colette, Jane, Shirley, and Jolene were in attendance, with other members all vacationing or working out of town.
According to a CBS interview in 2011, Kathryn Stockett began writing the book in the wake of 9/11 as she was homesick for her native Jackson, Mississippi. She calls the story a love letter to Demetrie, the maid who helped raise her. Originally, Ms. Stockett received 60 rejection letters, which she has kept in order to encourage other young writers to edit and persevere when trying to have a novel published. The book has now been produced in French and Spanish as well, and has been made into a feature film by her friend and director, Tate Taylor. While there are differences between the movie and the book, the author was on set every day and was satisfied that the movie felt like the book, remaining true to its essence.
While both the film and the book have become wildly popular, there has been some controversy surrounding the story. Stockett's brother's maid Ablene Cooper filed suit, feeling that her identity had been appropriated. The case was dismissed because the Statute of Limitations had run out. Dr. Duchess Harris of Macalester College and William Mitchell College of Law also has harsh criticism for Stockett. Dr. Harris laments, for instance, the fact that the protagonist championing the cause of black domestics is white Skeeter, just as Atticus Finch was the white hero in To Kill a Mockingbird. Skeeter is dealing with her own issues and leaves the black domestics in the south at the book's end. Despite negative press like this, The Help has sold upwards of 10 million copies since its publication in 2009.
The Muse and Views ladies in attendance liked the book, without exception. The characters and relationships were well developed, with Celia Foote being a particular favourite. Minnie was likened to To Kill a Mockingbird's Calpurnia. The heat, food, and atmosphere of Mississippi were brought to life as well, as was background history such as Rosa Parks' stand for civil rights. Several ladies also saw indirect connections to their own lives or to literature, some having had family members with nannies, or having read stories such as Jane Eyre, where class structure and the mistreatment of governesses figured prominently. We also briefly touched on racial, religious and linguistic tensions in Canada's history.
Stockett is apparently working on a second novel about life in the Roaring 20's and the Depression years, but she has missed deadlines in an effort to write it well and not risk being a one-hit-wonder. Coincidentally, next month we will discuss Rules of Civility, similar in time setting to Stockett's new story in the works.