Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(This is a copy of the review I posted on Amazon for The Help, which I read for a book club. I was not nearly as intrigued as the majority of reviews, as you will see. There were other issues that I didn’t touch on for the sake of brevity, but I’m open to discussion on other aspects of the book.)

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has a simple but intriguing message: relationships are complicated. Specifically, she seems to want to explain that the relationships between white employers and black maids in Jackson, Mississippi during the start of the Civil Rights era were much more complicated than they might seem to an outsider. This is sure to be the case and an insider view of the complex dynamics of this relationship would have been a insightful and thought-provoking novel. However, what was delivered fell far short of that goal. What ends up being “compelling and revelatory” about Stockett’s book is the idea that – gasp! – black maids have opinions on their white employers! Some of them hate their employers and some don’t! The potentially powerful exploration of the issue becomes diluted to the point of meaninglessness by the subservience of character development to plot development. Stockett knew what she wanted to happen in the book and by golly, it was going to happen, even if it meant  that she created stereotypes instead of fully-fleshed out characters. If she were Tom Clancy trying to create an action-packed exploration of strategic submarine movements during the Cold War, this sin would have been forgivable. However, in a character-driven novel, one that claims to focus on the inner feelings, motivations, thoughts, and desires of the people, the failure to create believable characters ruins the effort. Continue reading