I stayed up several nights until 1 am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. At a hefty 464 pages, it might be surprising that I wished it would have gone on for 400 more.
The story is told in various voices, but it is not at all confusing as each chapter heading states the character’s name. Set in Mississippi during the 1960’s and the early days of the civil right’s movement, The Help is the story of the black women who served as household domestics and nannies in the homes of rich white people. When one young white woman starts to become uncomfortable with the help’s treatment, she tries to be-friend the wary maids in the homes of her friends to interview them about their lives but the last thing they want to do is spill their secrets to a white lady which would be putting their very lives at risk.
The chapters told in the voices of two of the maids, Aibileen and Minny, use African American vernacular which is so authentic that you’ll do a double take when you see the author’s photograph, (she’s white.) The writing is flawless and beautiful with so many perfect lines that I had to constantly stop and re-read them for the sheer pleasure of it.
Despite the serious subject matter, and sometimes tragic, heartbreaking scenes, The Help is somehow also full of laugh-out-loud humor. Just thinking about some of the stuff the character Minny said and did still makes me snicker.
This book is a total package and definitely, without question, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Now, somewhat off topic, the book mentions quite a bit of southern cooking, and I never fail to get literary induced cravings, sometimes for foods I’ve never even tasted before. This time it was Minny’s Caramel Cake. This cake was mentioned several times in the book, as Minny was known around town for making the best Caramel Cake.
Well, I never had Caramel Cake before, but that had to change! … So today I sought out a recipe, and while I can’t say whether it’s an authentic southern recipe or not, I can tell you it is AMAZING. One of the best cakes I’ve ever made. If you’re interested, the recipe is over at this food blog called “Piece of Cake“. She actually made cupcakes. I followed the recipe exactly except that I poured it into a round cake pan. (Note: The batter fits in 1 round cake pan, but, um… when it bakes, it sort of overflows… a lot… So if you make a cake instead of cupcakes, use TWO round cake pans and make 2 cakes.)