Wow. This story pulled my in by the 4th page when Aibileen, a maid for a white family in Jackson, Mississippi, describes her employer’s attitude toward her own child: “Ever so often, I come to work and find her (Mae Mobley) bawling in her crib, Miss Leefolt busy on the sewing machine rolling her eyes like it’s a stray cat stuck in the screen door.” Instantly I was transported to that 1960’s living room watching the mother ignore her daughter and waiting for the maid to attend to the child. Aibileen is one of three narrators in this book about maids and their relationship (some good, others heart breaking) with their employers. Aibileen is good natured, calm, and patient. Minny, another narrator, is sassy and loud, but buckles under her husband’s knuckles. The third narrator is Skeeter, the white college grad who decides to interview the maids and urge them to tell their stories for a potential book , becoming an outcast along the way. All three narrators are interesting and well developed. A few reviews I’ve read find too many characters one-dimensional, but I disagree–I think they’re all compelling and different. The only aspect of the characterization I thought was lacking was Skeeter’s relationship with Stuart, the senator’s son. It seemed a little shallow, but it was worth reading the pages about the relationship to read the parts that included Stuart’s father–he’s a hoot.
I know some folks find the story a bit stereotypical–and who am I to judge having grown up in the north without a maid–but come on, what on earth did these women do all day? It’s hard to conceive of having full time cleaning and child care when these women didn’t work. Yes, they raised money through their Junior League functions, but they played a lot of bridge, went to a lot of luncheons, and spent a lot of time shopping and gossipping. Compared to my world where most of us work, raise kids, make dinner, grocery shop, volunteer, and maybe get a few hours of cleaning help every other week, it’s hard to imagine that life. How does one feel fulfilled at the end of the day?
I absolutely loved diving into the lives of each narrator, and I marked several passages that I thought are so well written. Here’s another passage narrated by Aibileen describing Mae Mobley and Miss Lefolt, Mae’s mother: “She (Mae Mobley) rather be setting out here with the help than in there watching her mama look anywhere but at her. She like one a them baby chickens that get confused and follow the ducks around instead.”
Any author that can write a first book in three convincing voices gets high marks by me. This is a great, fast, important read. (fiction)