Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman will make you love and hate her literary agents.
It will make you love the agent who saw potential in this novel — but in an entirely different kind of story. It was that agent who nurtured Lee and helped produce one of the great pieces of literature in To Kill A Mockingbirds.
It will make you hate the literary agent of today who found this manuscript and decided that what the world most needed was more of the story of Maycomb and a chance to check in again with Scout, Atticus and the rest. I won’t go so far as to say that this one ruins the literary legacy of To Kill A Mockingbird (as others have), but I will go so far as to say after reading it, I wish it had stayed locked in a drawer and never seen publication.
An older Jean Louise returns to her home of Maycombe for a two-week vacation to spend time with her father. While there, she’s romanced by an old flame and makes some discoveries about her father, her town and her childhood that unsettle her and cause her to doubt if she ever really knew any of them.
I suppose you could argue that Watchman is about a girl growing up and struggling to reconcile the image she has of her father with the reality of who he is or aspects of his life that he kept hidden from her. But given what we see in Mockingbird, the revelations about the town and Atticus don’t necessarily add up in the final equation. I couldn’t help but find myself hoping this was all some trick or plan of Atticus’ for some reason beyond the obvious. But like Scout, I came away disappointed.
Watchman reads very much like a first draft — and one that could have used a strong edit. There are sections that are clunky and difficult to wade through while others will remind you of Mockingbird. Ironically, these sections are those that flashback on the younger days of Scout, Jem and Dill. One section sees the trio playing revival after the various churches of the town hold theirs while another gives us a glimpse of what Scout would be like in high school and Jem’s growing up to be the big fish in a small pond of the high school and town.
Had Watchman focused on these areas, it might have worked.
Alas, there are too many clunky moments in between to make this the companion piece to To Kill A Mockingbird that many of us hoped it would be.