“Go Set a Watchman” the suddenly discovered second novel of the saintly Harper Lee is disturbing, vile, truthful and a real American horror story. And you believe every single word of this Southern Gothic page turner. It’s very well written and it’s compelling. But it’s a novel that takes us inside the Ku Klux Klan in ways readers of “To Kill a Mockingbird” will find frankly disgusting.
If only they hadn’t found it! But they did and now we all have to deal with the seething, horrifying racism that it seems American literary hero Atticus Finch. or should I say FORMER hero, for he is now forever dethronedseems to whole-heartedly condone. Yes, a meeting of the KKK is the centerpiece of this book, the way the courthouse trial was in “Mockingbird.” And yes, they both happen in the same “sagging” court room!
Beloved characters from “Mockingbird” will never be quite so beloved anymore. “Watchman” destroys the innocence of all involved quite completely. And I feel Harper Lee meant this. REALLY meant every mean word in this shocking book. And I mean, MEAN!
You’ve loved these characters. They are people to you, and to me. And so you feel quite astonished to find there’s more to them than you ever thought. Three-dimensional is what it is. It takes great writing to make you feel so deeply. And upset you so much, when they characters(people) you thought you knew are not behaving in ways you thought they would. It’s like being at some great family quarrel, that you wish you could get out of, but you can’t. They’re your familly now too,.You’ve invested so much time and thought and love into them, you’re stuck.. You’re gripped.
Maycomb, Alabama is a hot-bed of racist issues and all kinds of human rights abuses and points of view that hopefully its’ real-life counterpart Munroeville has long ago out-grown. But here we’re smack dab in the middle of the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement had really begun. But it WAS beginning and all the residents of Maycomb are scared out of their wits by it.
Jean Louise Finch, the now grown up Scout of “Mockingbird”, is also questioning, tacitly, her own sexuality, at least as far as fitting into the whale-bone corset of Southern womanhood, which is the marriage that awaits her. Or does it?
Running through “Watchman” is also not only the rising tide of the NAACP and the changes it will bring, but also Jean Louise’s realizations, prompted in no small part by her life in New York and her childhood friend Dill(who grew up to be Truman Capote), that she herself is more than “an eccentric”. She has a cousin, or some such, who is described as “a three dollar bill”(!) But Lee doesn’t go there. She stops with the paragraph “In New York you are your own person. You may reach out and embrace all of Manhattan in sweet aloneness, or you can go to hell if you want to.”
I wish she’d gone further with this train of thought, but she stops there.Suffice it to say, we are treated over and over again to Jean Louise’s absolute horror at having her first period, her dislike of dresses, her preference for slacks and her constant vomiting as she discovers that a) she is a woman and not a boy and b)that her beloved father, and also her fiance are card-carrying members of the KKK. Even her doting eccentric Uncle Dr. Jack turns out to be something else other than he appears to be.
So we are treated to upchuck after upchuck and indeed this whole strong novel seems to be spewn, rather than written. The world, the South, her father, her aunt, her uncle everyone makes Jean Louise sick .And I felt a bit ill at the end of it, too. And angry. It’s a polemic of the first water. A rant. Against racism, and also against heterosexuality, which the author(it was written BEFORE “Mockingbird” in the closeted ’50s.) against injustice, against male chauvinism which she encounters on every page, all of which left me with a profound distaste of Maycomb, Alabama and all its’ inhabitants, fictional or otherwise.
And this is the most difficult conclusion that Jean Louise Scout Finch has to come to, too. That she is inextricably part of it all. She was born that way and fight as she might against it all, and she DOES fight, she is stuck with this is who she is and what she has sprung from.
One only hopes that her character gets back to sweet Manhattan asap.
“Go Set a Watchman” is an important book, but it is a disturbing one, and it left me quite frankly, nauseated. But for all the right reasons.