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Tessa’s Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Categories: Blogs,Staff Reviews

The new Harper Lee book Go Set a Watchman features the main character from To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout, as an adult returning home to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York City. She must deal with issues surrounding her family, the community, and her own life.

ToKillAMockingbirdCoverThe humor in this book is as enjoyable as in To Kill a Mockingbird—lots of great Southern talk, church folk, and descriptions that take me back to my Florida childhood. However, the book needed more editing. Inevitably this will be compared to Mockingbird, and that book neared perfection. In this, there were typos. There were sentences that didn’t make sense. There were literary allusions that couldn’t be figured out. But these were few. There was one passage that really bogged down in logic and debate that could have been handled better. The plot lacked completion, cohesion, and polish. The ending was anti-climactic, unfinished, abrupt, and needed closure. (Yes, I’m being redundant. It was bad.) I think that Harper Lee never really finished this manuscript.GoSetAWatchmanCover

But there were also passages that were sheer genius. I really enjoyed the Coffee, where she would catch parts of conversations, overlapping, which would yield to hysterical possibilities. The analogy of a scale worked for me there. I have attended such social occasions in the South and suffered through in the same way, serving things up to the important folk and then back to the children or unmarried.

The time jumps were brilliant–I loved and delighted in them, enjoying the mental challenge to be alert for time locational clues. These were better than any other such book, I believe. Her internal reasons for the childhood flashbacks were completely logical and tied in so nicely with the book’s present.
The overall impression I have, and had before I read this, is that this is the book she wanted to write–this is HER story, as she experienced it as a young adult. I imagine her family was alarmed by all the fame and notoriety and they would not let her publish anything that was critical of the family. I’m sure they enjoyed Mockingbird’s hero worship of her family and father. But reality is that she actually was this spoiled, sheltered, sharp-tongued woman who thought herself (and sometimes was) brilliant and blameless.

Sadly her family was by no means faultless and sterling–and they had to live in the Alabama of the Civil Rights Era, which was neither a safe nor a comfortable place, as portrayed in the book. The steps they took were not what she wanted, nor what we see, from afterwards and outside, as “right,” but she helps the reader understand that there might have been people doing what Atticus did, with seemingly good intentions. We judge them at our own peril.
Still, I wish she had gone back and finished the book. I wish she had told us more of her accommodations to her family, her family’s adjustments to her city ways, and more of Alabama’s small town life in those days. Even so, highly recommended. ~Tessa 4 out of 5 stars August 2015

Author: The Jackson District Library

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