Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some thoughts on "Watchman"

Well this has certainly been languishing, hasn't it?

Anyhow, I've just finished Harper Lee's "Go Set A Watchman," and felt the need to write some things down.

First, I have to confess that this book had my Alabama roots showing: I read the whole thing (including some parts aloud to myself) -- without even a glimmer of conscious thought, really -- in what my Granny B liked to call a "refined Southern lady" accent, where, as she once told me, "You pronounce the H in every word whether there is an H in that word or not." And every bit of Atticus' dialog was, naturally, in the voice of Gregory Peck. :)

First of all, the fact this book even exists is wonderful. Despite the various hints at nefarious lawyers and whatnot involved in its discovery, simply being able to read another Harper Lee novel was a joy, the chance to revisit a loved, familiar place, but at the same time, glimpse it in a different way.

And that's where a lot of people seemed to have problems. Even before the book came out a week ago today, there were all sorts of reactionary blog posts about a chapter released in advance. I didn't read the chapter then, because I didn't think it was fair to read the chapter out of context. But other people don't share my patience, apparently, and quickly were up in arms about how it made Atticus Finch sound like the most bigoted of racists, and how dare he be that way? I didn't read the blog posts either (because spoilers, sweetie), especially the one titled, "This is not the Atticus Finch I named my son for." Honestly, if you think a different side of a fictional character is somehow going to change your son, you're nuts. Also, you named your son Atticus, so I'm not sure I can take you seriously. You might as well name your child Demosthenes or Polycarp if you wanted something ridiculously original (sorry St. Polycarp).

But I was not offended by Atticus. Yes, he is different, yes, the sad realities of racism in the Jim Crow South rear their ugly heads, but some of his attitudes (which pale in comparison to that of several other characters) are actually imagined as worse than they are by Scout. Ultimately, the fact that I'm not overly bothered by it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that Mockingbird, while a book I very much enjoy, isn't and never has been my Favorite. Book Of. All. Time. as it is for some, who have put a person they apparently forgot was fictional up on a pedestal. No doubt there will be a number of scholarly dissertations contrasting "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Go Set a Watchman," and picking the latter apart.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the book overall. It's a rare thing to be able to see characters we think we know at a time 20-plus years on. They have changed, certainly, but so has the world. The Jean Louis we see here seems, at least to me, to be a natural progression  and completely the product of the prickly tomboy Scout. I found myself at some points wondering how much of Nell Harper Lee was in her and, in a way, too, comparing how the reactions and responses of the now grown Jean Louise reflect the sad and offended nature of many of the people who have been so riled and even betrayed by how her father is different than their expectations...but I also wonder whether, like Scout, who grows in understanding as the novel progresses, other readers will be able to see beyond their own knee-jerk reactions?

The one thing that really did bother me was Jem's fate, which was more surprising than anything else. The flashbacks to the children's childhoods were fantastic, though, as were the additional history of the Finch family. I loved the character of Uncle Jack and his penchant for Victorian literature, and Aunt Alexandra with her tendency to speak emphatically in All Capital Letters. The scenes from the Coffee Zandra throws are brilliant, and I have decided that from now on, whenever I have to fill out a form that asks my marital status, I will instead of "Single," record myself as a "Perennial Hopeful." ;)