• Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

August 09 - September 09 Book Reviews

Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in P

We welcome your review. If we publish it, we will send you a gift certificate for dinner. E-mail to editorial@chicagolife.net or mail to Chicago Life Reviews, P.O. Box 11131, Chicago IL 60611-0311.

Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore. (William Morrow, $26.99).
“WARNING—This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank. If that sort of think bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that’s the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story.” So begins Christopher Moore’s Fool, a farcical send-up of Shakespeare’s King Lear. With  Monty Python-esque tongue-in-cheek, the story tells the King Lear story from the point of view of Lear’s fearless fool, a diminutive, but extraordinarily manipulative mortal by the name of Pocket. With a glance into his question-marked past as a convent-raised foundling, the reader is taken for a rowdy ride with one who may play the fool, but clearly is not one. It’s a goofball bon-bon of a summer read—for those who can suspend reverence to the god-like Shakespeare original. If Will had this book at his local bookseller, even he might have had a go with a raucous laugh or three. But caveat emptor—or the equivalent therein to the reader who blushes at language heard on the streets or CTA of Chicago—this is a tale with enough use of effing this and effing that to make Lenny Bruce blush and Blago feel at home, not to mention the between-the- sheets actions of the randy members of the various courts.—Candace Drimmer
The Help by Kathryn Stockett. (Putnam, $24.95).
What do you do if you are a 22-year-old white woman with a college degree in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, with friends leading lives revolving around bridge, the Junior League and marriage? If you’re Skeeter Phelan, you enlist the assistance of the African-American women serving as maids in the houses of these friends and covertly write a book about their experiences. Using the stories of Aibileen, the wise and world-weary maid who provides the moral center of the novel, and Minny, wife of an alcoholic, abusive husband and mother to a large family whose fearlessness inspires the others, Skeeter launches a plan to begin her journalism career by exploring the lives of these overlooked women. She learns of both the deep love they feel for the children they care for and the harsh conditions and racism inherent in the employer-employee relationship in Mississippi. These three women come together to challenge the structure of the segregated South and learn that there is not nearly so much separating them as they have been led to believe. This ultimately optimistic book is a moving tribute to the overlooked and ignored women who were not allowed to achieve their own dreams.—Susan E. Zinner
Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America by Kevin Mattson. (Rutgers University Press, $21.95).
Americans are all too familiar with the language of politics. Everyday vocabulary is replete with words like conservative, liberal, right-wing, wild-eyed and tight-lipped. In this splendid book, historian Kevin Mattson defines, labels, sorts out and brings us up-to-date in our constantly changing world. He provides names and dates, sells out political philosophies and analyzes causes and effects. A self-proclaimed liberal, Mattson is unusually fair and objective in his presentation. After WWII and during the Cold War, America experienced tremendous upheaval. Old ways were discarded. Unrest was the order of the day, translating into civil disobedience, sit-ins, race riots and general mayhem. Disorder, once thought the province of left-wingers, now began to spill over to include right-wingers. The times, they were a changing. College campuses went on rampages after WWII. Because of the GI Bill, which provided ex-servicemen and women with a free education, there were more students attending college than in any previous time in American history. Many of these men and women, children of working-class parents, began to challenge traditional authority. William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of National Review, was the acknowledged head of the rapidly growing conservative movement in America. Highly respected in intellectual circles, his influence deepened and spread during his lifetime. He was but one of the outstanding intellectual leaders of the day and figures highly throughout this book’s presentation. Meanwhile, numerous other thinkers—many household names—appeared on the scene, providing new and challenging ideas on any and all subjects. The Vietnam War caused especially strong protest throughout the country. In addition, the media, particularly TV, had a profound effect on the American psyche. Old values were constantly challenged by well-known opinion-makers, and ideas once considered sacrosanct lost their high place. “Radical” had now become a respectable idea. The summation in the final chapter of the book deserves an especially careful reading. It’s right on target: clear, thoughtful, fair and brilliant. —Emily McCormack                                                                                                                                  

Published: August 09, 2009
Issue: Fall 2009 Water Issue