With Go Set a Watchman Harper Lee not only tarnishes her legacy, she commits the worst sin an author can commit.
No, I’m not talking about making Atticus Finch a racist. Nor am I talking about making lovable little Scout a raving, closed-minded liberal bitch. It’s worse.
She’s freaking boring.
I should have finished this book in a couple of settings. Instead, I had to make myself pick it up. Nothing happens in the book. Where To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with memorable scenes, Go Set a Watchman is just Jean Louise raving about her father and fiance being racists between a few mildly interesting flashbacks to her childhood.
And it isn’t like Atticus puts on a sheet and goes out and burns a cross in the yard of Tom Robinson’s widow or anything like that. He attends a meeting in the courthouse in which an actual racist gives a speech because, as Atticus later explains, the racist “wanted to” make a fool of himself.
While Jean Louise sure as hell needed the bitch-slapping Uncle Jack gave her, the action seemed totally out of character for Jack. And the fact it suddenly snapped Scout back into the real world of Maycomb was a real stretch of the imagination.
And Jem just falling over dead on the sidewalk outside Atticus’s office? That’s dumped on us in Chapter 1 with all the fanfare of saying it snowed yesterday. We’re talking about Jem Finch here, the boy who survived Tom Ewell’s attack thanks to Boo Radley. Oh yeah, he died. He’s not in this story.
I’ve read in several places that this was the book Lee originally submitted for publication. I can certainly see why her editor asked her to go back and write a story about the children instead. You can see elements Lee drew from this book to create Mockingbird, but then you see that, in refusing to allow Watchman to be edited, there’s at least one flaw where Tom Robinson’s trial is recounted inaccurately. I don’t recall any mention whatsoever of Hank in Mockingbird, and yet Watchman sets him up as Scout’s oldest childhood friend.
My first reading of To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those things that helped shape who I am as a person. Scout’s childhood became a part of my adolescence, and, while there’s no taking that away, Go Set a Watchman does absolutely nothing to enhance anything about Mockingbird.
The most anticipated novel of the 21st century so far wheezes and gasps like a dying catfish on a hot Alabama sidewalk. Somebody should have thrown it back. Rumor has it there may be yet another unpublished manuscript found in a safe deposit box. I hope those running Lee’s affairs these days leaves it there until after I’m dead.