by Harper Lee
Harper, 2015. 278 pgs. Fiction
“Scout” Finch’s small town Alabama is brought back in “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee. The story picks up years after the events depicted in “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Jean Louise returning to visit her aging father, Atticus. People and places spark memories as Jean Louise recalls her years growing up happy and safe with a father she idolized and strived to emulate. But the South is a complicated place, especially during the early days of integration, and the Maycomb of today is not the Maycomb of her childhood. The community’s reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education shocks and dismays Jean Louise but not nearly as much as the revealed feelings of her beloved Atticus.
I hesitated to both read and then to review this book. I am not a literature major trained to analyze and intelligently critique works such as this. I am just a reader who grew up loving Lee’s classic novel, along with its film adaption. The circumstances surrounding the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” also gave me pause. However, I am so glad I picked it up. Written as a draft before “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Watchman” is much less polished and, on its own, an inferior novel. On the other hand, I found it to be an interesting and thoughtful opportunity to evaluate a specific time and place and even more so, a wonderful illustration of the dangers of attributing perfection to men. We all have failings and faults. Were he real, Atticus Finch would be no different. I truly enjoyed this novel despite its shortcomings and controversial origin and also recommend the audio version delightfully read by Reese Witherspoon.