I am a voracious reader, and of all the books I have read recently, two stand out for me. They are The Help by Kathryn Stockett and A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. I would consider them must-reads like The Kite Runner, The Poisonwood Bible and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Before I start talking about the books I should let you know that I love to read narratives with an emphasis on relationships and well developed characters. The relationships in these books sat with me well past the final chapters. The characters came to life for me and l loved how the authors kept revealing new layers.
I began The Help this summer very reluctantly. I had heard the author interviewed on NPR and something about her comments turned me off. Race is hard to write about, especially as a white woman from the south. Her descriptions of the books and her apologetic comments made me feel the book would be the same, a storyteller who was tentative and apologetic in her narrative. I had run out of books on vacation so I had to give it a chance. I was totally wrong. From the first page I was hooked. I met Abilene and I fell in love. The book is told from several perspectives. There is Abilene and Minnie who were domestic servants and then there is Skeeter, a southern white woman who was ahead of her time. Beside the fact that the narrators are so well developed, the book makes you think about the big issues that we still face around race and hired help. It also made me think about the expected roles of all women. Even the white women were oppressed as they put down others. They were expected to get married and have kids and nothing else.
The Reliable Wife came to me through the podcast of the New York Times Book Review that discussed the best books of 2009. This was right around the new year. The Reliable Wife was not in the top 10 when it was in hardcover, but somehow by the time it came out in paperback it was number 2. I also loved this book from the beginning. The quality of the writing in the first few pages is so outstanding that I often refer to it when talking to teachers about teaching writing. Though I did not realize it at first, the book is a bit of a mystery thriller. It begins describing a wealthy widower waiting on a train platform for a reliable wife that he found through an advertisement in the newspaper. We meet Catherine, the wife to be, on the train as she changes into her plain clothes on the train and tosses out her fancy ones. We realize that she has lied to the widower when she gets off the train. She is beautiful. She is not the plain woman in the picture that he expected. The surprises continue from there. I could not put it down.
Here is the New York Times review of The Help http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/19/books/19masl.html
Here is the review of A Reliable Wife from a mom’s book blog. I liked hers better than the others.