Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

The day we have all waited for has come and gone. Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's companion novel to To Kill a Mockingbird, came out Tuesday, July 14th. Unsure how many copies bookstores would receive or how fast copies would sell, I preordered through Barnes & Noble online. Although I would've preferred the experience of buying in the store (where I'd also receive my Educator's Discount), Barnes & Noble did an excellent job of express shipping the night before (without me asking or paying for that typical?), so the book arrived on my doorstep the day of publication. Not all online sellers pulled this off, so bravo B&N.

I started the book with ambivalence thanks to the crazy spoilers that came out from those with advance copies. (Where the heck did they sign up for that ARC anyway?!) At one point before it arrived, I feared reading it. Luckily, a trusted book/teacher friend read the entire book the day after publication and gave it five stars on Goodreads, easing my mind enough to pick it up and start.

Although written within the same few years in the 1950's as To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman's setting takes place twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird, with Atticus at age 72 and Jean Louise (Scout) at age 26. Jean Louise is on her way home to visit her father, reminiscing all the way. But the Maycomb she returns to is not the one she clearly remembers as a child. Stepping into the civil rights era, race relations are buzzing around Maycomb and the greater South. Jean Louise faces the fact that although her father was a fair man, it wasn't necessarily about equal rights between the races.

Here's where people started reviewing in a rage about racist Atticus. But reading through Atticus's explanation, as well as Uncle Jack's, I'm not positive it's a racist Atticus we are seeing, as much as an old man set in his ways and fearful of change. First, both men implore Jean Louise to understand how a sudden change would throw the South into chaos. At age 72 a changing world is a very scary thing and very hard to handle, whether it is for the better or not. So, I understood this stance. Atticus does say a few things that can definitely be racist, namely his concern for how the African Americans would ever survive with all those rights after what's been done to them. At the same time, knowing Atticus's kind and just nature, you can see how he would think his thoughts and words are nothing but concern for the African Americans involved.  Uncle Jack especially makes this point when he tells Jean Louise she will have to move home and stand for her belief in equality because eventually the other side will begin to die down and die out and the town will need someone who loves it and believes better to lead the way. Uncle Jack knows he and Atticus are simply a product of their time and things will soon change.

So, I guess all in all, I didn't see the crazy racist Atticus everyone had their panties in a bunch over. "Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth" (Isaiah 21:6)...thank God the ARC reviewers don't have to be my watchman, cause they seeth a mess where there isn't one. Although I took note of a number of good quotes, the writing wasn't up to To Kill a Mockingbird par; it's my understanding Lee didn't do any editing though. I thought characterization stayed consistent, Jean Louise a spitfire as ever, Aunt Alexandria obnoxious, and Uncle Jack level headed and firm. And Atticus...well nothing can ever touch Atticus in my mind. Finding a fault within him only makes him more human to me, especially when it seems to me that he thinks he's doing right and is such a good man at heart.

As for the people asking for refunds for their copies of Go Set a Watchman and the bookstore giving them? Go get a life. That's not how this works. Hardly anyone went into this blind to the possibilities of disappointment. And if you did, how is this different from any other book you might read and not like? A dangerous precedent to set if you ask me.

LIFE magazine special on Harper Lee
was full of extra details about the books,
Lee, and the movie making of TKAM


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! It made me nervous writing it with all the commotion about the book and people taking such staunch sides.

  2. I was glad to know going in that this was actually the first draft of Mockingbird and not a sequel--you can definitely see where & how her editor worked with her to start over, taking part of this story & fleshing it out. I feel like that's the piece a lot of people are missing. You can see her brilliant writing on the sentence level, but it feels more like a collection of vague anecdotes than really a novel, so I can see why they told her to start over..

    1. Yes, there's definitely that fact too. I called it a companion novel to avoid sequel and such. I am amazed how she got TKAM out of GSaW really!

  3. "Get get a life" indeed. It doesn't always pan out the way we want. Such is life itself.

    1. Exactly. Btw, I liked all the links you placed at the end of your review. It helped get around and read a few After I posted mine, which I wouldn't have seen otherwise.