Weighing in on “Watchman”

I admit I was one of the flocks of millions who anticipated the new Harper Lee novel with glee.  A chance to re-enter that world of small town Alabama and the world of those characters, Scout, Atticus, Jem and Dill? Count me in. I consider To Kill a Mockingbird one of the best books ever written. I’ve taught it to 8th graders, and even had a cameo role in a local stage production as a member of the jury.

I did not however pre-order the book, Go Set A Watchman. Practicing thrift, (sometimes) I added my name to the waiting list at my library. I was number 12. No rush, I felt, I have plenty to read.

Then the first chapter was released early. And I read it. And thought:  dull. Passive. Too many modifiers. Too much exposition. Dialogue like, “I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you.” I didn’t care about the adult Scout, now using her formal name, Jean Louise and her want-to-be fiancé, Henry Clinton, an assistant in Atticus’ law practice.

I almost quit reading. I do that now with books if the end of the first chapter does not engage me. I’d heard enough about the rest of the book: Atticus now in his 70’s and a bigot, defending the ways of the old South. No Jem, he’s dead. WHAT?

No Dill.

No Boo Radley. How could it be any good?

Add to that all the controversy about whether Harper Lee even gave consent to publish this book. That it isn’t a complete novel but merely a draft of what became her international best seller. That her editor, long since deceased, helped her mold Watchman into Mockingbird. That publishing this book was purely a blockbuster for Harper Collins, owned by NewsCorp, in other words, just making Rupert Murdoch richer.

Then I read two articles that delayed my returning the book, deciding I should give the book a fair trial before condemning it.  This one  urges readers to look at Atticus as a man, complete with inherent inconsistencies and complexity, instead of as a hero as he is in TKAM.

Writer C. Hope Clark’s posted her review on Facebook. She wrote:

“…No, Atticus was not painted a racist, but should be considered more of a realist. He was part of change, but recognized it as a difficult and complicated changing of the guard. Change is painful and is never handled with a clean break regardless of what people want…”

I can’t say I agree with everything in her review. I found the writing inferior to TKAM, the novel plot-less, and the characters stereotypical.  I was fascinated though to see how Lee developed as a writer, under the guidance of an excellent editor. The adult Scout is a bit autobiographical; Harper Lee returned to Alabama after leaving for college and then working in New York City.

Yet I miss the old characters, forever immortalized in To Kill A Mockingbird.  The novel maintains its place as most beloved of all time. I read most of Watchman at the beach. Toss it in your beach bag and give it a try. Love to know what you think.

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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14 Responses to Weighing in on “Watchman”

  1. Interesting comment.

    Like

  2. Could it be that the build up was so hyped, that a person’s expectations were so high, that the book was bound to disappoint Lisa?
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Drjcwash says:

    I am reading it now. I am enjoying it. I too love TKAM but this book is about the disappointment of returning home and realizing your heroes are flawed. I will let you know what I think after I finish it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Returning home is a big theme- doesn’t every 26 year old find fault with their family after being “out in the world?”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leah says:

    I appreciate your post. Like you, I was not one that planned to read Watchman either. I still haven’t read it, but after your thoughts and others, I may give it a shot.

    Like

  6. Pat Skene says:

    I’ve put the book on my list, thanks for the reminder. Somehow you dropped off my blog list…just reinstated myself.

    Like

  7. I have hesitated to read Watchman, as I love TKAM so much. Like you, I believe it to be one of the greatest books ever written! I read it again about 2 years ago and found myself utterly swept up in the writing, the story, all of it… to read anything less of these characters is something I don’t want to do… thanks for your excellent review, Lisa. I always enjoy your book reviews, and generally agree with your thoughts on books. Now, I’m really questioning whether I want to read this one…

    Like

  8. Can’t bear to read it, Lisa. I’d rather just pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Liked by 1 person

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