Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Review...Thank You Ms. Lee For Your Darling*


     Yesterday I finished Go Set A Watchman.

     Back in July, I wrote, "What's In A Name?"  In a nutshell, it's a defense of the book and its publication, set off by the hoopla that was going on at the time.  The word, Darling* in the title, is a reference from that post.  I wrote it before I read the book.
     Go Set A Watchman, has been promoted many different ways.
     It has been called, "A New Novel from Harper Lee."  It's also been called a prequel, a sequel, and a first draft of the classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.
     Since both novels contain the same characters for the most part, and there are many questions concerning its origin and publication;  that caused quite a bit of dismay.

     Still, I am happy that Go Set A Watchman found its way to the bookshelf.

This is not a view shared by everyone.
     Brillant Books, a bookstore in Michigan even offered refunds to customers who felt duped.
     Many critics were not too kind as well, including New York Times' Joe Nocera's: "The Harper Lee 'Go Set A Watchman' Fraud".  Ouch.
     New Republic went as far as to say:
 Harper Lee's 'Go Set A Watchman" should not have been published.
     Some were a little more understanding, as expressed by The Washington Post.
     And then, you have, The NewYorker's, "Sweet Home Alabama".
     After painstakingly reading, now 3 times, I think the only point I agree with, is that Go Set A Watchman is at times "magically alive".  Note, that if this book is as proclaimed, the largely unedited first manuscript that Ms. Lee gave the publisher nearly 60 years ago; "magically alive" is no small compliment.
     And I thought it was lovely.  I found it to be more about coming to the realization that your parents are people too; (neither the saints nor the demons that impassioned romantic youth often project onto their parents) more so than a moral definitive.     
     Through my looking around on the internet, as well as reading articles about Ms. Lee, I have drawn the following impressions.
     If Go Set A Watchman is the first draft of what Ms. Lee brought to Ms. Hohoff, it makes sense to me that Ms. Hohoff knew that she had a diamond in her hand, no matter how rough.  From what I've read, Ms. Lee is a big believer in writing what you know.  Her father, again from what I've read, was an attorney, defended a black man and his son accused of killing a white store clerk.  Even so, Amasa C. Lee, was a man of the South; thought to be descended from Robert E. Lee, and held views that were prevalent of the time.  Doesn't mean they were right.  He reportedly did become more progressive as he aged.  
     In other words, Go Set A Watchman, was what Nelle Lee knew.
     I found Go Set A Watchman, to be like swayin' on the back porch swing; sippin' a glass of sweet tea.  And just like the South, despite the humidity; the civil unrest and inequality; and the mosquitoes; the South is not without its charms.  Go Set A Watchman drips atmosphere.  And I found it to be an astute study of the struggles that go on within a person upon learning less than pleasing truths, about the ones we love.
     I don't think I'm going to shock anyone by saying that even with its charms, even today -in 2015; the South is not the perfect example of civil equality.  Sure as hell wasn't in the late 1950's either.  There's no denying that point, and to pretend for even a second that it didn't and/or doesn't exist, is downright dangerous.  Still, the landscape is hauntingly beautiful; the food evocatively scrumptious; and for many like me, home to several loved ones.  I'll always find my way back. 
      After reading Go Set A Watchman, I am even more convinced, of what I suspected in, "What's In A Name?"; Go Set A Watchman, is To Kill A Mockingbird, before the editors, the publishers, and the marketers got their fingers on it.
     Therefore, Atticus Finch did not become a bigot and a hypocrite after being a champion of civil rights in his 1930's case; because To Kill A Mockingbird had yet, to be created.  Atticus, believed as many of the 1950's South; that while blacks may be human, and thus, (to some), deserved fair and just representation; the color of their skin was not the only difference between blacks and whites.  That was possibly the same view as Ms. Lee's own father.  It was a backward ass view then, as it is today.  I suspect that was what Nelle Harper Lee knew, and thus, what she wrote.  There is no, "Jean Louise is now".  There is no, "picking up" where To Kill A Mockingbird left off; this is how the character and THE STORY WERE ORIGINALLY WRITTEN.  There is no evolution of character, because they are essentially two different stories.  The original depicted a 26 year old woman, living in New York City, from a small town in the South with all the knowledge and memories of a 26 year old woman in 1957 America.  If one finds the book to contain clichés; it's because when Nelle Lee first wrote the manuscript, they had yet to become those clichés.  I don't even think she had taken up using her middle name  for her pen name yet.
     This is a hunch for the most part, based on what I've read, including this Wikipedia biography of Ms. Lee.  To me, it seems more probable than any other explanation.  
     For a moment, let's imagine that other than proofreading, Go Set A Watchman was published when it was first submitted in 1957.
     1957.  
     Tay Hohoff was the editor that is credited with helping Ms. Lee with her novel.  In 1957, there were few published female authors.  Even fewer editors.  Ms. Hohoff's first name was Therese; thus I suspect the impetus for going by "Tay".   As Go Set A Watchman was for the time, a reflective observation of the time and place of which it was actually written; perhaps Ms. Hohoff strongly suspected despite being written "with the spark of a true writer in every line"; that it was going to need something more, if it was to see the light of day.  Given that it was a tumultuous time in civil rights history everywhere in America; and that the book was written by a first time, female, author; either of which would have been a hurdle to it being published.  Given that Ms. Lee and Ms. Hohoff went through several rewrites, to the point of Ms. Lee even throwing one out the window.  Perhaps Ms. Lee felt that what she was writing, was becoming something that she did not know.  Not only did it not readily come from her, she may have felt she wasn't being true to herself or her characters.  She knew the Atticus Finch from Go Set A Watchman.  The Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird was the nice man down the street, that Scout occasionally exchanged attempts at being polite with, (for the tomboy that she was).  
     "Good mornin' Mr. Finch." 
     "Mornin' Miss Scout."   
      He may have even been one of those Yankees from up north.
     Back to our imagining...  Go Set A Watchman, despite the political climate of the time, gets published.  It receives mixed, but  encouraging reviews, for the first time author.  After all it has the charm of the South and is an honest depiction of the time and political climate.  While it doesn't become a moral model for the generation, nor does it win any prizes; it does find a growing niche of readers.  Ms. Lee perhaps, not being hounded by, well everyone; remains in New York and continues to put out other good books.  The majority enjoy good press, but none of the books take on a life of its own.  Or, maybe one does; and as the reading public, we get to witness the evolution of a writer.  Or, perhaps Ms. Lee moves back to her hometown to enjoy life with the ones she loves and does however she pleases.  Perhaps, that is how she has lived all along. 
     As how life has turned out, maybe we still can learn from Ms. Lee's wisdom through Go Set A Watchman.
     In it, there's abuse, and there's killing.  We meet a couple Jean Louise's former classmates, who are oblivious of life outside of their hometown and scared of change.  Pretty much like it was in the late 1950's.  Even today, come to think of it.  By the way, the abuse is a smack in the face, from her Uncle Jack.  I don't condone it, but I saw it as his way to try to get her attention.  A way to say, STOP THE SELF PITYING DRAMA; AND STOP AND REALLY THINK.  Again, think that notion could come in handy today.  The stop the drama part; not the hitting.  Best to remember that these are fictional characters.  She learns that while her dad may not be worthy of sainthood, his reasons for the Council as well as the Klan, seem to be more to know thy enemy/neighbor, than to be a hate toting member.  Incidentally, Uncle Jack feels so guilty, for hitting his niece, that he has to do something extraordinary; so he takes a shot of whiskey, after getting a swig for her.  Even her stoic aunt is revealed to be human after all.  And the killing is metaphorical-to kill the worshipped image of a parent on a pedestal; in order to become one's own person.  Just like Oedipus.  Sort of.  

Ah family.  No matter how crazy; you gotta love 'em.

     I have read before that Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, has even been the reason some folks became lawyers.  Wow.  I sincerely hope that worked out for them.  However the Atticus from Go Set A Watchman, in this perceptive review from The New York Times, is described as, "72 years old, suffering from arthritis and stubbornly resistant to social change."  

Now that, describes a lot of Washington; TODAY.

For that reason, I close with, Go set a watchman, and declare what thee see.

Or, if you're a Jon Stewart fan:"If you smell something, say something."


Again; thank you Ms. Lee, for your story.