For the longest time I resisted listening to this book, and kept wondering "why does everyone love this?" While it seemed as though a giddy throng was raving about it, I quietly said "no thanks" and "not for me". After all, it violated all my "rules" about what fiction I would read and what book I would decline. It had too many characters, too many southern accents, too much conversation. It was about a place and time I had little interest in - even though I was the same age, at the time, as the main character, and had lived through many of the events mentioned in the book. And, I was not interested in the sociology of "white ladies" and their "black maids" in what I considered to be a then culturally unenlightened area.
Well, I was wrong. One day, for lack of anything else to read, I downloaded "The Help" and I was addicted from the first word. While I am not usually a fan of dramatizations, I think that is what sealed the deal on this book for me. The voices of the characters as read by different narrators were Goldilocks perfect - right on the money, and brought to life the world of privileged southern women and their black help, with all its humor, sadness, love and pain.
I can't really add to what any of the other reviewers have said. I ended my reading of this book in tears, as it brought up so many feelings of loss in my own childhood. But this book is not about its ending, even though the story concluded with a painful scene. It's more about living, about the positive, get-it-done energy we all spend in making it through each and every day, through whatever to us means "good" and "bad", and through connections made and connections broken.
I can't wait until this book is a movie. While reading I spent half the time casting all the characters, and will not miss the opening of this book on film.
This novel works better in concept than in execution. The idea of "the rapture" as a dark comedy is appealing, but as the author implies in his post-read interview, what starts out as a humorous spoof on the remnant that is "left behind" quickly moves into a story about loss and about dealing with sudden bereavement. It's reads like a comedy of manners gone wrong, and while Perrotta maintains an ironic, amused distance from his various personas, the reader is left with few relatable characters or situations. There are multiple story lines, a structure which works well, but the narrative elements are all viewed from a detached clinical distance. I like the book, especially the title as a parody of the "Left Behind" series, and do recommend it, but Perrotta's signature tone seems to work better when it's not so heavy-handed.
The narration is perfect. Boutsikaris' voice is mellow and sonorous, un-accented and without unnecessary drama or extremes of expression.
This book will delight and entertain but ultimately enlighten the reader with its detailed introspection, empathy and surprising revelations. Patchett excels at what some critics call "odd pairings" but I regard this novel as a full demonstration of what this author has to say about learning from unexpected sources, and an implied caution against what I would call "contempt prior to investigation". In other words, you never know who your next teacher will be.
I have read most of Patchett's work, including her interview and her Sarah Lawrence commencement address, and she never fails to deliver in narrative skill, characterization and insight.
Can't wait for the next one!