I first heard about this book on Twitter, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. A personality I admire said it was the best book of the year. I don’t know for sure why I believed her when people tweet similar things about interesting sounding books all the time. It might have been how emphatic she was. Or the fact that she reiterated it every time she re-tweeted that someone new was starting to read it. Or the fact that since I believed her I gave it to my mom as a gift before I’d even read it myself and Mom loved it. Or that Mom then passed it on to friends. And being passed on to your friends is of course the highest compliment ANY book can receive.
At any rate, I not only believed that woman. I really, really believed her.
Our town used to have a Golden Corral, and I remember one Sunday after church eating there with our friends Lee and Lori. We’d all eaten more than we knew we actually needed, and I remember Lori and my sister, Felicity, making the joke that we ate the Golden Corral buffet like we were never going to be served food that wonderful ever again.
That’s the way I devoured this book. I started it one day and feasted on it as quickly as possible yet still attempting to take in every single morsel. I did that because I was convinced it would fill a reading hole for me, that it would make me a better person, and that it would make me a better writer. And in some ways, I think it did.
The book is narrated by one young white woman, and two black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early sixties. It’s got the tension you can imagine from that scenario, the complexity of friendship, the ugliness of prejudice and the subtle everywhere-ness of it. And as I read, I was engrossed and in suspense as to how it would end and in the depths of despair because I felt certain that if I couldn’t write a book exactly like this one I may as well not write any at all.
And then it ended – not overwhelmingly triumphant as I’d hoped, but beautifully – and I read the author’s note at the back, and that’s when it happened. That’s when I became a better person and a better writer. Because I realized it was true – I couldn’t have written this story. It was Kathryn Stockett’s to write. Her life had been leading her to write it since she was a tiny child being told by her own black maid, “You are beautiful.” And I don’t know yet what stories I’m supposed to write. And there’s little chance they will matter in the world of literature quite like this one has. But they’ll be mine. They’ll be the ones I was meant to put on paper, and they’ll make me proud. Especially if I can someday learn to write my stories as honestly and with as much depth as Kathryn Stockett wrote hers.