Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Putting The Help on Blast

Just when I was searching for something of value to me to blog about, www.salon.com came to the rescue again. In perusing the website today, I came upon this article about the book, The Help.
The Help is a widely popular fiction novel about race and class in the 1960's South. A number of people recommended this book to me including the book club at church. I read it and liked it but was not blown away by it. Regardless, the article is about a law suit being brought against the author by someone who feels too similar to one of that characters and believes her story was exploited.
Make what you will of this article and this claim. It brought up two more interesting points for me. The first is about exploiting people's stories. I feel very strongly that life stories and experiences should not be used in an exploitative manner; I feel just as strongly about the importance of people finding their own 'voice' and power.
Second, and more up for debate in my world, is the issue of artistic liberty. More specifically, how "okay" is it for someone to write about a gender/race/etc that is not their own?
As I mentioned in my last post, I am currently reading Little Bee. A friend of mine who read the book already, which is about a female Nigerian refugee in England and penned by a white man, and took issue with a man writing from a Black woman's perspective. I am only halfway through the book so I'm not sure if I can comment much but so far, he seems to be doing a good job describing some things that are traumatic to women. For the record, the writing is very good but I don't think I am in love with the story.
On the other hand, Wally Lamb's first huge novel was She's Come Undone and was written from a female perspective. I love Wally Lamb and everything he touches (except that Christmas story) and want him to be my buddy. In my opinion, he did a flawless job of a man writing with a woman's voice.
As all of these books have been read by many, I would be interested in other opinions on the topic. In the meantime, I am interested to see the result of the lawsuit.


  1. I read a book recently that was kind of a tear jerker- or heartstrings jerker, or whatever. It's called Winter Garden. It's not a really great book, and it drove me crazy that much of it is set in Russia, but the author had never been there. I mean, I know that you can do research, but it seems like to really feel it you've got to go there. Or maybe I just have a bad imagination.

  2. No, I would agree that's wierd.

  3. Interesting! I hadn't heard about this. I read "The Help" in November for my book club and like you, I liked it but wasn't blown away by it. It sounds like an interesting lawsuit with some perhaps some merit but I think Kathryn Stockett will win. I haven't given it a lot of thought before, but overall I don't have a problem with authors writing in different voices, genders, and races than their own, unless the writing is terrible or offensive to the gender or race or country being written about.