Over the past two weeks I finished two more books that were well outside of my usual subject matter. I typically go for adventures, thrillers, military or history. When I step out of my usual subject areas and enjoy the book, it must be pretty good.
The first is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The story focuses on the tumultuous domestic life of semi-pro race driver Denny Swift. His ups and downs are almost two steep to be believable, and he does some things so stupid you want to reach into the book and slap him “up da sida da head.” However, the saving grace of the book is the story is told in the first person, by Denny’s dog, Enzo. He is quite a character — with the soul of a human and forever frustrated by his lack of opposable thumbs and his inability to speak. He actually looks forward to the end of his dog-life, because he is certain he will be reborn as a human. Enzo’s observations on his master’s turmoils are both insightful and hilarious. You will want to strangle Denny, but you’ll love Enzo.
While I was reading the book, I kept looking down at Casey the Lab and wondering, “So what are you really thinking?”
Mrs. Poolman recommended “The Help” by Kathering Stockett, although she warned me it might be “too chicky” for my tastes. She was partially right, but the story is good enough to overcome the chicky-factor.
The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. It is also told in the first person by “Skeeter” a young Ole Miss grad who wants to be a writer, and two African-American maids, aka “The Help.” Skeeter convinces several of the maids to help her write a book about their lives as black domestic help in pre-civil rights Mississippi. If “The Help” had been published in the time the story was set, it probably would have been considered shocking. Nearly 50 years later, much of the intensity of the social issues is now history. The draw to the book is not so much in the plot as in the characters. The two maids, Aibileen and Minnie are great. For much of the book, Minnie worries about a “great terrible awful” she has perpetrated on one of her former employers. When you find out what she actually did, you’ll want to cheer.
This is Stockett’s first novel, and she has room to improve. Skeeter’s primary antagonist, Hilly, her former college roommate, is overdrawn. She is viciously mean and vindictive, but still manages to be able to order her contemporaries to do whatever she tells them. And Stockett throws a major illness at another key character that adds nothing to the plot, and is just distracting.
All having been said, however, it is a good read. It’s on the top-ten list this week, and deserves to be there. I’ll be interested to check out Stockett’s next effort.