Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was a mixed experience. The thrill that it exists, the excitement of having new moments with classic characters, more of Lee’s writing style, and what-could-have-beens, as well as, the crash and burn when your favorite character, a hero for the ages, has morphed into a narrow-minded old man, fearful of change, on the wrong side of history.
It’s surreal. I feel like the Scout from “To Kill A Mockingbird” should wake up from a nightmare “Wizard of Oz” style and point to Atticus and say, “And you were there,” to Uncle Jack, “And you were there,” to Jem, “And you were kinda there,” and way over to Boo in corner, “And you weren’t there.”
Basically, you’ve probably already heard that readers travel down the rabbit hole when Scout returns to her hometown from the city to visit her aging father. While there, she reminisces about how the town has physically changed, her childhood, and teen years. There are some hilarious scenes about her further adventures with Jem and Dill, which ultimately make the book worth reading. However, the town and the people in it are also changing emotionally. Her high school crush is trying to press her into marriage, her heroes fall from grace, and she sees opposition to the rights of black citizens growing all around her. Scout is now an outsider, set like a watchman, as the people to whom she loves change.
Overall, if the characters names where changed and Harper Lee’s name removed, it would be a good but flawed book, belonging on the shelf with “The Help.” I would say that the main character was annoyingly naïve about her dad. She looks at her father as a blameless, perfect man. Apparently, she has never been angry with him before or had reason to think he is not a saint. Then she uncovers a hateful secret about him, the blindfold is off, and she has a meltdown. Instead of acting on her anger right away, either by calling him out or running away, as I would imagine an educated, independent woman would do, she mopes and mopes. She had no problem arguing with her aunt or expressing herself to her would-be boyfriend, but her dad is off-limits. Of course, if you know her dad is Atticus Finch, the character we all consider blameless, it makes sense. Change the name and you have no idea why she worships her father so much.
It’s a brave book, about a setting that a lot of authors would never touch. Few people could really capture it. Although I hate Atticus’ morph, I agree with other reviews, that realistically, there were a lot of men just like him during this era. But I can see why the publisher wasn’t keen on the story at the time. Prior to the realty tv world we live in, people wanted characters who were idealized, heroes who were all good and villains who were all bad.
To me the flashbacks of Scout’s childhood really stand out and shine. I think the publisher made the right call asking for a novel about her childhood. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is still superior. I wanted a little more development and backstory of adult Scout and elder Atticus in “Go Set A Watchman.” If you haven’t read or seen “To Kill A Mockingbird,” I don’t know how well “Go Set A Watchman” would stand on its own. But it is a thought-provoking read and well worth your time.
View all my reviews