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Monday, July 13, 2015

Go Set A Watchman. Readers Brains Read: Permanently Closed

I know, I know, I wasn't going to read anything about Harper Lee's new/old book and felt irritated that there were reviews out already.  I get my copy of the book tomorrow and was eager to read it fresh, blind. 

Then, I went to a kid event yesterday, 89 degrees and seventy percent humidity, but five huge bouncy houses and ten bucks giving unlimited bouncing All Day. While my youngest sweated off face paint and I tried to unglue my soaking pants from my legs, I realized I had left any book at home. So I gave in and read the first section of Go Set A Watchman via The Guardian's website, and commentary from the New York Times, guardian, Wall Street journal and Atlantic.

In comment after online comment, people cried passionately, "I won't read it!" (The equivalent of stamping a sign on their forehead that says "this room is closed and locked forever and then bragging about it.) Me, I don't care if the book is good, bad or indifferent or if it presents characters as different than they are. And, spoiler alert: it appears that it does, particularly with wonderful Atticus. People who use To Kill A Mockingbird as their bible and named their sons after this literary character, (a la King Arthur creating a trend in the name Artie,) would be in for a rude awakening, it seems. They may want to change their kid's names, like Harpo Marx did with his, from Adolf to--yup--Arthur, for obvious reasons. 

Others claim To Kill A Mockingbird is so perfect, they are certain Go Set A Watchman couldn't possibly be as wonderful so they aren't going to look, which is akin to saying South Pacific was such an amazingly realized musical, I will never go see The King And I or The Sound Of Music. 

I, on the other hand, cannot wait for tomorrow, for so many reasons. Does this book give insight into 
what lead an active, passionate, pugnacious young woman to live a life of isolation, basically cut off from the writing she must have loved? Does it provide any hint about her mother's mental illness (apart from the dead mother of To Kill A Mockingbird fame?) Give us any idea why neither she nor Alice ever married? What other observances did this fiercely observant woman make about the Deep South at a time of tremendous unrest? If she didn't, in this version, do the eighty-seven rewrites necessary for a gripping first chapter, does the rest of the book live up to the best of the writing in To Kill A Mockingbird, with its hilarious, clear-eyed vision of childhood, it's compassionate exploration of mental illness, and its detailed vision of a small town during a routine summer that becomes far from routine? 

Most of all, will it be an engrossing read? I could really use an engrossing read through the rest of this heatwave. 

One other thought: Harper Lee's father defended a black man in 1919. After that man was acquired and lynched, Amasa never did another trial. So Nelle had to invent his courtroom manner, the details of his reaction, the trial, everything out of whole cloth. That observation was only shaken loose by the idea that Go Set A Watchman showed us a different version of Amasa Lee. I've already gotten insight into Harper Lee's writing process, and I haven't even read it yet. This mind, at least, remains intensely open. Bring it on, Harper Lee. Make it complicated. I'm waiting.

P.s. I always did wonder why those parents didn't name their kids Amasa instead of Atticus. And nobody has named their daughter Nelle.

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