Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Go Set a Watchman

            Oh my, how the tables have turned. OR rather

        Yall want some hot book publishing goss? Let me lay it on you.

            Go Set a Watchman* was originally thought to be To Kill a Mockingbird's sequel. Wrong. Harper Lee finished writing Watchman in the mid-1950s; her publisher rejected the manuscript as it was and encouraged her to hone in on Scout’s childhood instead. She complied, wrote and published Mockingbird, and seemingly forgot about Watchman. Fast-forward over 50 years. Harper Lee was 89 years old and her health was failing her. Her sister and primary caregiver died. Harper’s lawyer and trustee of her estate, Tonja Carter, took over and conveniently found the Watchman manuscript, which she published. Eight days before Harper Lee’s death, her will was redone to transfer the bulk of Lee’s assets to Carter’s control as executor.

            Some of Lee’s friends claim that she was sufficiently healthy and aware when Go Set a Watchman landed in HarperCollins’ fingertips. Others fervently assert the exact opposite. One thing is for sure: home girl had been vocally adamant over the years that To Kill a Mockingbird was her one and only novel.

            So, was the manuscript published against her will? It’s a sad sitch either way. Either she was fully on board; in which case Tonja Carter is unnecessarily demonized for helping a woman she cared about deeply. Or she was taken advantage of; in which case her legacy is tainted. Because the thing is—it’s a bad book. It’s a first draft and it reads like one.

            The novel is written in third person (as opposed to the first person account in To Kill a Mockingbird—part of the novel’s appeal IMO).  It follows the disillusionment of Scout in her mid-twenties as she realizes that Atticus’ racial beliefs are more complicated (read: more racist) than she once thought. Since Atticus is considered a “watchman” of her hometown, his beliefs don’t bode well for Maycomb, Alabama, and Scout is morally horrified.

            Having a racist character in your book doesn’t automatically make the book racist. I think that Harper Lee started somewhere (with this manuscript) and listened to her editors (rightfully so) to make a more fully fleshed out novel of complex empathy and racial tension (To Kill a Mockingbird). Reading this honestly does a disservice to the author’s vulnerable writing process, and I don’t recommend picking it up unless you really want to thoroughly study the progression of a renowned literary figure (and feel uncomfortable that you’re maybe contributing monetarily to the exploitation of an undeserving elderly woman). Go Set a Watchman receives 1 out of 5 camel humps.

*Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

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