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Book Review and Fresno Defensiveness
At the suggestion of my wife, I read a very fine book called "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.
A couple-few years back, I was stuck with a missed connection at the Las Vegas airport after doing a few out-of-town shows with my band. A few of us bleary-eyed, late-night travelers were in line together, trying to straighten out our flights and get home. Of course, as we wait one asks "Where ya headin'?" I answered, "Fresno." One of the guys I was standing near says, "Oh, I'm sorry."
Here's a bit from Stockett's afterward .
"I moved to New York City when I was twenty-four. I learned that the first question anyone asked anybody, in a town so transient, was 'Where are you from?' And I'd say, 'Mississippi.' And then I'd wait.
To people who smiled and said, 'I've heard it's beautiful down there,' I'd say, 'My hometown is number three in the nation for gang-related murders. ' To people whoo said, 'God, you must be glad to be out of that place,' I'd bristle and say, 'What do you know? It's beautiful down there.'
" I nailed down his foot with the stiletto portion of my shoe and spent the next ten minutes quietly educating him on the where-from-abouts of William Faulkner, Eudoria Welty, Tennessee Williams, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Hensen, Faith Hill, James earl Jones and Craig Clairborne, the food editor and critic for The New York Times. ...
"Mississippi is like my mother. I am allowed to complain about her all want, but God help the person who raises an ill word about her around me..."
This last bit is what made me think of Fresno Famous and some of the discussions that have happened here and on other local blogs.
To the book itself, I say: This book shows a great 'human-ness'. To me that's about the best thing about any piece of art---that it feels 'human'. It has heart. It touches my heart. It shows just what it is to be a person. You can get this from the most architecturally-complicated symphony from Beethoven or the most basic three-chord-wonder from Hank Williams. For me...if that quality is there...it's pretty special. If it isn't, it's not. This book has it.
"The Help" is the story of a young, relatively well-off white lady in early 60's Jackson, Mississippi. She wishes to write a book which asks the black women who work inside these white families' homes, "What's it like?" In a place where there are clear, sometimes not spoken, lines of race, this question and the answers that might follow could get a lot of people into a lot of dangerous situations.
The book succeeds in grabbing and keeping your attention, showing this 'human' quality that I was trying to explain and showing us that, as a character in the novel comes to believe about human race, "Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought."
[in the 'tiny gripes' dept.: The author sometimes gets her 60's pop-culture references a little out-of-synch with the times. She has a character listening to The Rolling Stones in her car in January, 1964. That's a month before the Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show. --not likely. Also, a comfortable young white man refers to those damn yankees coming down with their long hair and peace signs....in late 1963. I know that 'long hair' is relative, but peace signs and the word 'hippie'(also refered to) were not part of the common vocabulary in Leave it Beaver-era America.]
[disclosures: the author does cop to a couple of these anachronisms....but me being geeky for such things had to be petty and complain!]