Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compared to the prize-winning story that made Harper Lee a household name, this one isn't quite as good. It's good on its own, but To Kill A Mockingbird sets the bar way too high for this book to ever reach. However, it's very thought-provoking, nevertheless, especially in the way it handles discussion on the Civil Rights Movement. Scout (I can't bring myself to call her "Jean Louise") is very much modern, having been raised to respect all people and gone on to live in New York, a more progressive and diverse place than Maycomb County. And everyone around her is either stuck in their Southern ways (I'm looking at you, Aunt Alexandra!) or, dare I say, considerably complicated (like Atticus.) I won't get into the discussions (and, later, nasty arguments) Atticus and Scout have over the course of the book - they would spoil the story too much. Even though, by now, that particular aspect of the story's been spoiled to death (an "It Was His Sled" moment, as TVTropes would say, or perhaps "All There Is To Know About Go Set A Watchman.")

One not-too-spoilery thing (for this book, anyway) I will nitpick a bit about, one point, the narrative mentions the trial of an unnamed black man accused of rape. Automatically, I'm thinking Tom Robinson - except it's said that Atticus helped this man get off on the charge, when we all remember Tom Robinson was found guilty. To what do we chalk this up? Are these two different cases? Or is this an inconsistency that was kept as-is from the original draft after Harper Lee went on to write TKAM instead? We may never know.

So, the theme of this book can be summarized, pithily, as "Growing Up Sucks." Or, better yet, "When you grow up, your idols will fall, and you'll lose your religion - in more ways than one, possibly." Yeah, I can actually see why Lee said, for so long, that she wouldn't release another book - because TKAM is a classic, and anything that taints its legacy in any way (as this book does just for painting some of Lee's most iconic characters with a darker brush) really isn't all that necessary. And I can't exactly see this book being taught alongside its predecessor in high school English classes - unless the teacher happens to be a soul-crushing cynic (like some of those from my old high school), or just that into the concepts of dichotomy and round characters.

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