Monday, February 29, 2016

Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)

Written about five years before 1960's To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman was rejected, put away and forgotten. It remained unpublished until its rediscovery in late 2014. Consequently, Go Set a Watchman is a pre-written sequel of sorts, albeit an unintended one.

It's 20 years or so after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout's all grown up, now living in New York. She's not called Scout anymore, having reverted to her given name —Jean Louise. Back in Maycomb, Georgia, on her annual two-week vacation, Jean Louis is "almost in love" (her own words) with Henry Clinton, her father's law office assistant.

Little Jeb is gone, struck down prematurely in life. Housemaid Calpurnia has retired. Aunt Alexandra Finch Hancock now lives with Atticus Finch, who at 72 is somewhat hobbled by rheumatoid arthritis.

Torrents of memories flood her thoughts. There are, of course, a few memories of what transpired in To Kill a Mockingbird, even though that book had not yet been written. Some of her present recollections are delightful, but to me, some are quite frankly irrelevant and boring. The Rev. Moorhead takeoff, for example, went way too long.

I whizzed through Alexandra's 10:30 morning tea hutch so I wouldn't doze off, it was so long-winded and boring. The "tossed brassiere" incident, however, is a gem.

The thing is, Go Set a Watchman merely ambles until you reach Chapter 16. That's when author Harper Lee finally gets to the point.

Jean Louise reexamines the past, confronts the present, and contemplates the future. Dr. Jack Finch, her uncle, explains the social change that's upsetting her—how changes are actually the resetting of old ways in different form. He explains that she is a bigot, in the truest definition of the word. She'd called Atticus a racist, delivering a lengthy diatribe that reinforced her opinion.

That's no surprise, unless you see it from the perspective of a To Kill a Mockingbird sequel, which it is not. If you take into account this was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, then where's the surprise coming from? The problem with reading this story written before, but taking place after To Kill a Mockingbird (which is not an actual sequel) is that one tends to think of Jean Louise as Scout. We feel like picturing her the way we knew her in To Kill a Mockingbird, which hadn't yet been written.

The first third or so of Go Set a Watchman reminds me of how my first novel (never written) might have been—loosely scattered memories tossed together into the salad bowl, dressed with a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette of sorts. I probably wouldn't have caught my stride until my second book.

But then, I’m no Harper Lee.

My Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Genre: Drama
Published by HarperCollins, 2015


casch said...

Actually reading your review, I was mesmerized. You caught me at the beginning and I couldn't stop until the end. Now, I realize it wasn't very long, but isn't that what a good writer can do? Catch you at the beginning and hold you captive until the end. I believe I miss the book you didn't write.

Craig Miyamoto said...

Aww, thank you very much, Carolyn. You are good for my ego.

~ Craig

Sandy Pavia said...

thanks, Craig!
excited to read "Go Set a Watchman" -- but way more than that,
ever since i met you, i have also been waiting to read your novel!
you are a brilliant and thoughtful writer! can't wait to read it!

Craig Miyamoto said...

Sandy, I've had a few false starts and have concluded I'm just not a fiction novelist. Maybe in my next life?