Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

I have a penchant for novels told from the point of view of a writer. This was even sweeter for the fact that a young gangly, white college graduate writes in collaboration with The Help–women whose black skin and pressed maid uniforms speak of an entirely different sort of upbringing.

This book is about crossing boundaries between race and social class during a time (the early 60’s) when integration was a four letter word and white people didn’t associate with colored people. Except they did. Stockett attempts to show the love and fear, the pain and joy and the familial bonds that tied the white and black cultures together. Stockett confesses in her end notes that this novel was inspired by The Help who took care of her family during her formative years.

In summary, Skeeter is inspired to write a book told from the viewpoint of the maids. Her first challenge is to find women who not only offer compelling stories of abuse and triumph, but who are also willing to risk their lives and livelihoods just to tell their stories. There are two heroines in this novel: Skeeter and Abileen. As they begin their journey, writing together, they begin a friendship that is not based upon servant and master, but friend and friend–two women equal in spirit and hope for a world where all people recognize that black and white are only skin deep.

Stockett is just as brave as the women in The Help, she writes several chapters from the vernacular and point of view of the maids. Much ado and criticism have sprung forth, claiming that Stockett’s use of vernacular was stereotypical and the depictions of black characters were offensive. While the white folk don’t have a southern accent, the vernacular of the maids is not horrific. It might not be perfectly accurate, but it is easy to read and understand. Furthermore, I could *hear* the characters speaking. This is an excellent accomplishment for any writer! I am always quick to praise a novel that delivers me into a visual experience of the author’s imagination, but rarely do I find I can also hear every word that a character speaks. If Stockett’s representation fails someone’s high standards for perfect vernacular, they could use a little help finding the point of the novel.

And on the tune of visual representation. I was there. I enjoyed the social and political references even if a few of the details experienced time travel. The Help explores a new slant about the lives of people who keep hired help. I qualify it as ‘new’ because the novel spends little time outside of the perspective of the maids or the situations they are inextricably involved with. Unlike classic novels where maids are present and often even have names, this book is a celebration of the work they did and the racism they shouldered with smiles on their faces and ‘yes ma’ams” on their lips.

I recommend taking the time to read it before Dreamwork’s version hits the theaters in August 2011.

In the news Stockett’s brother’s help Ablene filed a lawsuit in February 2011 against Stockett for stealing her identity and using it as the maid Abilene.

Kathryn Stockett’s website


At the time I composed this post, the United States had been at war for almost eight years. Eight years with more than 100,000 men and women deployed at any given time. The number of spouses, significant others and family members left behind is staggering. While our soldiers are in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting for what they beleive will better the world, their families also sacrifice. They sacrifice time with loved ones, they live with worry and fear of that phone call that will shatter their world, they live with the possibility that their soldier will not be the same person he/she was when they left. But we rarely ever have an opportunity to hear the stories of the families who stay home, tend to domestic matters and provide what little support they are able to offer their soldier.

The Author:

Siobhan Fallon’s collection of short stories offers a glimpse into this world often neglected by a society so overborne with stories of war, of death and of IEDs that they don’t even imagine the suffering, so seemingly trivial in comparison to the service of a soldier, experienced by the spouses. Fallon has every qualification to pen a collection of army wife stories as an wife who spent three deployments living at Fort Hood while her husband fought abroad.

The Book:

Each story is carefully designed to offer a different dynamic while remaining focussed on the relationship between a man and his wife. Whether the experience is one of jealousy, heartbreak, devotion, loss or frustration, each story revolves around one family’s struggles to survive domestic life after or during the husband’s period of active duty.

Fallon does not adhere to the female perspective. Some of her stories dive into the soldier’s mind and offer glimpses of his deployed experience  as well as his mental struggles and pain in returning to domestic life. These moments feel clear and unforced, Fallon’s character depictions are tangible and moving. The stories feel honest and plausible; these stories bring an outside reader into the domestic world of military service that is ignored in the headlines.

The only gripe I have about these stories are the endings. Every story, excepting the last, ends without an ending. Fallon builds tension, she brings characters to life and she leaves the audience hanging on the last page. Some of these stories were beyond frustrating because of the loose ends. The emotional arch necessary to give the reader a sense of understanding, conclusion or fulfillment never comes to fruition. It’s like taking your partner on a date to the movies and walking out ten minutes before the show’s over.

Siobhan Fallon’s Website