By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal
“Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”
“My test of a good novel is dreading to begin the last chapter.”
“There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black person and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.”
–Howell Raines, “Grady’s Gift”
Several years ago, a new work of fiction landed on my desk by a young woman who’d grown up in Jackson and now lived in Atlanta.
Because I do a book page inside this section each Sunday, I am on the mailing lists of a plethora of publishers. Most of the time, I open a package, peruse, then pass it along to someone in the newsroom who might best appreciate the book.
Sometimes, however, something about a book grabs my attention and is deemed a keeper.
Such was Kathryn Stockett’s first novel “The Help.”
I took it home and for the next weeks Stockett’s amazing cast of characters became a part of my world. I thought about them when I was at work and could not wait to get back to them.
And as the final pages of the novel neared, my reading slowed as I contended with my inner conflict of wanting to find out what happened to these folks for whom I’d grown to care and not wanting to end my relationship with them.
In the weeks and months that followed my own reading of “The Help,” I proudly watched as the book rose to the top of every bestseller list imaginable.
I understood this Southern story told by a Southern woman would be snatched up by Southern readers, but Stockett’s novel was selling out across the nation. It was also destined to become an international hit.
As one who dreams of one day having a book published, I struggled with my own literary envy vs. extreme pride that a fellow Mississippian was experiencing such phenomenal success.
I emailed Stockett days before I was to review her book at the Lee County Library’s Lunching with Books. I asked a few questions I thought might make my review more interesting. I did not expect a reply, much less a cell phone number with the invitation to “call and let’s talk.”
We chatted for a good while and Stockett said she’d love to call in while I did my review, but she had a dentist appointment during that time.
My literary envy vanished when I learned she not only is a good writer but a very nice person.
I’ve met a few folks who didn’t like “The Help;” some found it audacious that Stockett, who is white, would attempt to write from the point of view of black women.
I happen to be one reader who believes she did her best and it worked.
In a few weeks the movie version of “The Help” will be released. I can hardly wait.
Books are always better, I believe.
Still and yet, it’s my hope the film will be true to Stockett’s novel.
If it is, it will be a hit as well.