Like thousands of movie viewers across the country I checked out "The Help" over the weekend. I read the book a few weeks ago, needing something fluffy to balance out the histories and biographies my father keeps pressing on me. I was moving through Target trying to keep ahead of an out-of-control three-year-old buzzed on Mike & Ikes. The book promised to be the next best thing to To Kill a Mockingbird, a story that took my breath away when I was twelve years old, the same age as Finch. I tossed it in the cart but to my dismay I turned the last page and was still breathing normally, it hardly dented my interest, it seemed to doze like the heavy hot afternoons on the verandas of those Southern plantations it described.
The story's premise is difficult to believe. The plot revolves around Skeeter, a debutante journalist who wants to write about black housemaids and their working experiences. In the 1960's in the deep South black women spilling the nasty beans about their bitchy bosses was a stretch for me. In the book a black woman's teen aged son accidentally used a white toilet and was beat savagely until he was blinded. What mother would risk this kind of feral insanity just to embarrass her employer? "You are a godless woman," says Abileen after she is fired by her boss, Hillie (a kickass performance by Bryce Dallas Howard.) And Viola Davis flashes that same amazing expression that won her the Oscar nod in "Doubt." Some of my fellow movie-goers were wiping their eyes at the end of the show. Crimany, I must be a cold, cold wonder but even fiction for me must resemble real life. No doubt the same women who cried for "Bambi," yet another great fairy tale.
I was raised in a town of whiteboy mavericks who never traveled more than twenty miles outside their backyards unless the hunting was better in the next county. My minority group contact was virginal. There was one black family in town and why Mrs. Scott kept her brood in this lily-white city escapes me. I would have wanted a bigger city, cultural contacts with that rich black African heritage for my children. Dave's father called them "jigga-boos", the black kids on the TV college team. My grandmother would rave "how cute their babies were," like beagle puppies, I guess.