educator, writer, speaker, devoted family man, amateur philosopher, chess enthusiast, basketball junkie, connoisseur of fine hip hop, and purveyor of wit and wisdom
Recently, I figured I would get a jump on one of my “40 by 40” tasks and start reading a novel per month. The book I’m starting with is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I’m not going to review the book here (I’m not finished yet), but after reading for about a week now, something’s been bugging me.
What is glaringly absent from the book is the presence of any men. Of course, the book is written by a woman who may be more adept at capturing the voice of women…or perhaps not. Maybe the focus on women is an intentional one. Who knows. It just left me with an odd feeling…the men in the book are talked about instead of talked with. The men are mentioned in the same way the living room curtains are mentioned…as background decoration. The white men are the financiers for all the petty luxurious whims of their wives…as if the men are simply the help that Kathryn Stockett is trying to highlight. The black men are often absent (from the book, from the lives of their families).
So I’m reading this female-filled book with women whose names are truly southern. Names like Miss Leefolt and Hilly and Pascagoula and Eugenia Phelan (who everyone calls Skeeter) and Aibileen (who recently lost a son named Treelore).
I started to ask myself “I can’t really relate to anybody in this story. Where am I in this novel?” Then I reach page 96 and I come across a character with the most plain-sounding name in the book. The story describes a tall, black young man with short hair named Robert Brown. He’s a real nice young man who earns some money by mowing lawns around town (he’s been mowing Aibileen’s yard for free ever since her son Treelore died).
Anyway, I got excited. This Robert Brown, my own namesake, written into the story as one of the good guys.
Then four pages later, he gets beaten almost to death with a tire iron for using a whites only bathroom.
I walked around with this odd feeling all day yesterday. Why did his name have to be Robert Brown, and why did he have to get beaten with a tire iron?
I’m probably a third of the way through the book now. The novel tells a good story, and it is deftly written, weaving in and out of the first-person voices of the primary characters.
We’ll see if my mood picks up as the story goes on. Hopefully Robert Brown survives.