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Posts tagged ‘Munroeville’

“Go Set a Watchman” a Real American Horror Story

“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 dethronedGo Set 1seems 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.

“Hey, Boo!” intriguing new doc on the mysterious Harper Lee

I really was quite enchanted with the lovely, new documentary film “Hey, Boo!” about the reclusive Southern authoress Harper Lee. She wrote the  classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, won the Pulitzer Prize, then never wrote anything again and disappeared from sight. This very well done doc by Emmy-winning documentarian Mary McDonagh Murphy explains why.

I had no clear picture of this elusive author, except what one could glean from, of all things, the TWO films about Truman Capote that came out one right after the other in a two year period. “Capote” won Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar, and got Catherine Keener a supporting actress nomination. It was her second, and she was playing a lesbian in both films, “Capote” and “Being John Malkovich.” 

Sandra Bullock, in her best performance ever, and pre-“The Blind Side”, played an even butcher Harper Lee in the 2nd (and I thought superior) Capote film, “Infamous.” These two films made sure that Truman Capote was back in the public’s eye, even though he’s been dead for a number of years…But no Oscars or nominations were coming the way of “Infamous.” It sucks to be second in this kind of close filmic race. But Truman would’ve loved all this posthumous attention. Harper Lee, no.

However, there Harper Lee was depicted on screen in two movies, helping, traveling and being the all around best pal to Truman Capote, as he traveled to Kansas  by train to investigate the horrific deaths of the Clutter family. Massacred en masse by two gay drifters, one of whom Capote fell madly in love with Perry Smith, and who he pretty much immortalized in his greatest work “In Cold Blood.” And Smith is depicted in all THREE films.

Harper Lee doesn’t appear in “In Cold Blood.” And Capote did not win a Pulitzer Prize, fairly or un-fairly, for his greatest work. And he never forgave his former best friend since childhood, Harper Lee, for this. She had a Pulitzer. He didn’t. And this revelation, among many others, sort of forms the climax of “Hey, Boo!”

“Hey, Boo!” performs the magic trick/tap dance of not having the central character Harper Lee anywhere in it. Yet it still remains compelling. No mean feat. Kudos to filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murpphy who is also the author of the New York Times Best-Seller “Scout, Atticus & Boo: Fifty Years of to Kill a Mockingbird.” This film is so complete, Oprah Winfrey is even in it, telling how much this small, succinct book impacted her young life. To this day, “To Kill a Mockingbird” still sells a million copies a year!

We see pictures of her, and hear her heavily Southern-inflected voice on a radio broadcast from the early ’60s, but that’s about it.

Nell Harper Lee, for that is her full name, and all her friends who are interviewed in the movie call her, Nell, was Capote’s next door neighbor in the small Southern town of Munroeville, Alabama. That these two children would both become considered America’s great writers of that time is a fateful historic co-incidence.

And the film reveals many things we did not know about Nell. She was, when she came to New York in the ’50s an airline reservation ticket counter clerk for a quite a long time before some well-meaning friends, who are interviewed extensively in the movie, generously gave her money to take a year off to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And it wasn’t a breeze doing so for Nell, even with this generous support.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was rejected by many publishers before Nell Harper hit pay dirt and got a sympathetic editor…and the rest as they say is history.

She always reminded me more than a bit of Margaret Mitchell, that other Southern female writer, who wrote one great, best-selling novel, “Gone With the Wind” then was never heard from again, literaray-il-ly speaking.

And “Hey, Boo!” lays out why. Suddenly famous, then also suddenly weary of all the non-stop press attention she was getting, she just says simply to someone, “I have given enough. I don’t want to give any more.”

And I guess, she, being a woman of carefully chosen words, meant was she said.

In this Internet age, one wonders if one book, and a novel at that, could ever make such a stir these days. But in its’ day “To Kill a Mockingbird” coupled with the great Black and White film that won three Oscars, one for Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the heroic lawyer, patterned to a T on Harper Lee’s own father, and one for Horton Foote’s screenplay and one for Haskell Wexler’s cinematography.

It’s also a question if the book without the film’s monumental impact would have achieved the legendary, classic status both the novel and the film enjoy to this day.

But “To Kill a Mockingbird” endures and endures, and this great, thought-provoking documentary explains why.

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