Thursday, August 27, 2015

Setting a Watchman

I really didn’t want to read Go Set a Watchman. I was in shock, at ALA Midwinter, when it’s discovery was announced. I, like so many Alabamians, was so suspicious. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a part of our culture. What were they doing to Harper Lee’s legacy?

But it wasn’t just OUR story. In Massachusetts, I saw readers clutching their copies the day it came out in July. Will we ever really know the true story behind the discovery? Is it a draft? Is it a sequel? Is it “secondin a series” as the Overdrive metadata asserts? How much was it (and TKAM) shaped by an editorial hand? I would love to see a really talented literary scholar get their hands on those respective manuscripts.

Frankly, I can’t see it as a draft. If the cover didn’t evoke the other, if the authorial name were different, if not for the shared place and personal names, would I have even of connected the two works?

There’s just enough allusion to the “meat” of the Tom Robinson trial, and of Scout’s growing up, for continuity’s sake. But it’s very much about Scout as pubescent, as a teen, about Jean Louise as 1950’s era New York bohemian, about what happens when women in claustrophobic small towns get married. It’s more Shirley Ann Grau or Ellen Gilchrist than TKAM, laced with a much more modern feel. There were passages I loved. The description of the surreptitious ways that people in Maycomb drank was spot-on.

And I think the pre-publishing indictment of Atticus as racist is a little pat. His joining the Citizen’s Council “to keep an eye on things,” him wanting progress, but at a more measured place, echoed conversations I heard growing up, but not from any one with malice in their heart, just people favored by the status quo, people who weren’t cut out to be crusaders. I guess I forgive them, and I forgive Harper Collins, and Tonja Carter.

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