I know a lot of people read To Kill a Mockingbird sometime around junior high, but I wasn’t one of them. Somehow, I missed this one. Maybe it was because we moved around a little bit, or maybe I had teachers who weren’t interested in it. I finally read it a few years ago and loved it, so I was excited when I picked up a copy of Go Set a Watchman.
This book has a very similar tone to Mockingbird, somewhere between ideal summer days and the painful smack of real life. While Mockingbird was a coming-of-age story for a child version of Jean Louis “Scout” Finch, Watchman is a coming-of-age story for her as an adult. She returns to Maycomb thinking she understands where she has come from now that she’s been living in New York City for a while, but soon comes to realized that you can never go home again:
Hell is eternal apartness. What had she done that she must spend the rest of her years reaching out with yearning for them, making secret trips to long ago, making no journey to the present? I am their blood and bones, I have dug in this ground, this is my home. But I am not their blood, the ground doesn’t care who digs it, I am a stranger at a cocktail party.
It’s the kind of thing that makes the book relatable, because many of us realize eventually that even though we are adults, we aren’t quite grown.
The repeated themes of life in the South, racism, and the importance of family aren’t a surprise, since this book is focused on the same characters as Mockingbird and essentially served as a first draft for the novel that would come to win Harper Lee so many accolades.
What I believe made Lee such a well-known writer was her excellent use of description. Her word choice could make nothing sound like something and make it seem far more important to the story than it really was:
On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds’ early service; she would have pondered over the meaninglessness of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going ungazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.
While nobody can debate that Lee was a talented writer and that she tackled subjects that might make other authors turn toward something a little less realistic, I can’t say this is my favorite book. There were plenty of times when it was too boring, focusing so much on the character arc that there was little action. The massive amount of contemporary references–which would require me to stop and look them up on the internet if I truly wanted to understand the point a character was making–made it a bit of a difficult read. One thing that especially bothered me towards the end of the book was that Dr. Finch and Atticus spoke in very indirect, beat-around-the-bush sort of ways that were more confusing that intriguing. I didn’t come to this book looking for a light read, and I certainly didn’t find one.
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