Sunday, July 26, 2015

FInished with "Go Set a Watchman"

As the subject line says--or implies--I've just finished Go Set a Watchman because, like the rest of literate America, I couldn't resist the book--and Scott picked up a copy for me last week when I was a) between books and b) depressed. Some months back I had one of my favorite Metro experiences when four women, ranging in age between twenty-something and sixty-something had an animated discussion about the "new Harper Lee." It was really very fine going from indifferent strangers to eager companions in the space of fifteen minutes. And we were all so excited and we all knew just a bit of this and that in the day or two after the book had been announced. So it was, likely, inevitable that I'd be reading the book within a few weeks of its release but I did hesitate, a bit, when the whole "did Harper Lee want it released or was she just too addled to stop her money-grubbing agent / publisher from issuing it" question arose. 

 But that it was an earlier rejected version of To Kill a Mockingbird made me all the more curious about it since I've read any number (well, I think it's a number no higher than six) of versions of some of Scott's books, and I do find it fascinating how utterly the characters, plots, theme, etc. can change  between the first version and the last; Ophelia's Ghost has the tiniest bit in common with The Astrologer, and I'd hate not to have read Ophelia's Ghost. (Oh, how I miss you, trick with the apples!) So it was inevitable despite the bad reviews of which I've heard but that I hadn't read.

 Because, you know, Atticus a racist isn't necessarily a bad thing. (Oh, SPOILERS ALERT, possibly.) In fact, I might go so far as to say it's a good thing because it struck me, somewhere between page 100 and page 180, that the thing about Mockingbird is that it's sort of "people are good though sometimes they do bad things" (Scott's word is "naive") and Watchman is more "people are often bad even when you think they're not" and most days I'm inclined to feel the latter is a more accurate assessment. So I was fine with the Maycomb that you find in Watchman. I also realized that the writing reminded me a lot of Dorothy Parker who wrote more than pithy couplets about death and dating and snarky reviews. But, and I don't really want to be the sort to write spoilers so I'll be oblique here, I feel that Ms. Lee lost her nerve in the end.

(That which I said about not writing spoilers? I throw that out the window in this paragraph. Consider yourself warned.) The final chapters, in which Jean Louise and Atticus have it out--well, they don't work. Not for me, and not, I don't think, for the story. Jean Louise, whom you call Scout, could go back to NYC without saying anything and that would be believable for I think most people prefer to avoid confrontation. She could have it out with Atticus, pack her bags, and leave town never to return because some people like to have the moral high ground and value having their say over keeping the peace. (See any gathering of Proudfeet.) Or there could be some sort of fairy tale/it was all a dream solution which, at least, Watchman doesn't resort to--or at least mostly it doesn't. What I can't accept (see above SPOILER alerts) is that it's best for Jean Louise to accept that her father is not a god and thus not perfect but a man she loves anyway--and to whom she never should have said such rude things. There's a big difference between "not a god" and thinking only whites should be allowed to vote, hold public office, or decide what's best for themselves.


  1. I actually love spoilers and actively search them out in reviews of movies and books. It saves time. So thank you. What if, instead of, "This guy is not a god and thus not perfect but a man I love anyway," it had been, "This guy is a racist jackass and that's not ok but he's a man I love anyway"? Because THAT seems a realistic conclusion.

  2. Well, maybe that's closer to what Ms. Lee intended. It's just not a conclusion that I understand.

  3. I haven't read "Go Set..." and I am probably not going to. So never mind what I was going to say.