Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Help: Wow. Crappy.

I can't bring myself to finish The Help.

I'm 3/4 of the way through.  I don't have that far to go.  But, fuck, each time I pick up the book to finish it and I see that chapter I'm stuck at, I can't do it.  I lose my will to finish the book.

Some books you can't finish because you know they're going to end badly or because they lose steam, but this one...yeesh.  It's just a waste of time -- a colossal waste of time.

You should not read this book.  No one should read this book.  If, however, you do decide to read this book, please either borrow it from the library or a friend, or buy it used.  Just don't increase the demand for it.  This book should not continue to be printed.  People should not be allowed to continue to profit from its sale.

Now, I know there are many awful books out there.  Like none of us would be worse for wear if Danielle Steele's entire canon were to somehow end up in one of those deep-ocean sulfur vents, never to be retrieved ever again.  However, the works of Danielle Steele -- and Jilly Cooper, Sidney Sheldon,  VC Andrews, and Harlequin's entire stable of writers -- are fun, interesting and engaging.  They're good fun on a long train ride when you don't want to think.  Most importantly, though, they don't take themselves seriously.  They don't think they're Important.  They're the book equivalent of watching a TV soap opera, or a Summer Blockbuster movie.

But The Help?  It thinks it's doing Important Things.  It thinks it's talking about race and rebellion and whatnot in Important Ways.  It doesn't realize that it's trash -- and not even particularly good trash, at that.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Kathryn Stocket fully intended to write a superficial piece of crap that screamed "Movie Option".  Maybe she figured that making most of her characters cardboard cut-outs would make it easier to option because then the movie guys would be able to just fill in the blanks without worrying that they weren't being true to the book.  I mean, the woman included a zillion cliffhangers (all with anticlimactic resolutions) into the book.  She must have realized what she was doing.  Right?

At first I thought the book was racist because all the Black characters were stereotypical characters who  didn't do anything but comment on their relationship with the White characters.  They didn't seem to have any interests outside of the families they were working for.  It was like the author couldn't imagine that these people didn't see themselves as anything other than the White Peep's Help.  And when any mention is made of their lives outside of the White Peep's Help, Stocket's motto appears to be "Tell, Don't Show".  You don't see these people interacting; you hear about them interacting.  It's like that part of their lives -- the part that makes them whole characters -- isn't worth exploring.

But then I noticed that the White characters also don't really have depth or personality.  One character, Elizabeth, appears to be some kind of placeholder for a character.  She's like Stocket's Note To Self that says, "[INSERT INDIFFERENT AND LAZY WHITE MOTHER HERE]".  The "racist" character might as well been lifted from A Very Special Episode of Matlock.  

The only character that has any sort of depth whatsoever is our hero, Skeeter.  And she isn't much of a hero given that  she's just writing stories about The Help to get a job at a New York newspaper and get the fuck out of the south.  Moral ambiguity in a character is all well and good, but the author needs to actually know that their character is morally ambiguous to write it well.  Stocket doesn't seem to be aware of the fact that Skeeter is actually just a selfish White chick topped off with a splash -- just a splash -- of White Guilt.

Anyways, I suffered through all this before one chapter did me in.

The whole book is written in the third person, but each chapter is written as a narrative about one character.   That is, until you get to the chapter about The Benefit.  Then it's just a third person narrative about The Benefit.

I read one paragraph.  I was hoping that it would be a third person narrative about The Benefit as if The Benefit were a character.  But alas, no.  It's just a chapter about what happened at The Benefit.

Again, there are many books where the narrative style suddenly shifts.  Douglas Adams did that a lot, for example.  But when you break the narrative, you better have a good reason and you better be doing it for the right effect and not just because, oh, I don't know, you don't have the patience or skill to write the same event from the POV of 5 different characters!

So screw this.

If anyone reading this wants a copy of The Help, I'll send it to you, postage paid.

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