Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Readers and students never forget their first Mockingbird encounter. Harper Lee's celebrated book has a place on that Great American Novel List for a reason. Everyone comes away from this book wishing Atticus Finch was their father and even if they say they don't, they're lying.
The 1962 film starring Gregory Peck is probably the greatest example of a movie adaptation of a novel Hollywood ever made. If someone never read the book, at least they're familiar with the film. It's on every Top Ten Greatest Movie List out there.
In case anyone's wondering, Go Set A Watchman will never be made into a Hollywood movie. It will never make anyone's Top Ten List. Who would play Atticus? He's about 70 years old in this prequel everyone is calling a sequel. It is no sequel. It's not even a novel but a rough draft of an idea the publishers wisely rejected in 1957. It lacks everything that make Mockingbird great.
I'm still wondering who got their hands on this manuscript and inserted their own modern day ideas and opinions because this book contains none of Harper Lee's style and prose for anyone familiar with the original story. The social consciousness is gone. Childhood's safe cocoon shattered. The heart has been removed, replaced by grim, cynical, 21st century reality that the nuclear family, not to mention the nuclear age, has been forever lost. Cast aside. Replaced by something much better. Post-Christianity.
It is a very disappointing read.
"The novel must tell a story," says Dr. John Finch on page 188 in this most anticipated novel of the year.
Was Harper Lee even paying attention to her own writing?
The setting is irrelevant. There is no plot, no character development, theme or style because this story could happen anywhere. The time period is supposed to be the late 1950's yet all featured characters, including Atticus Finch and his precocious daughter, have been reduced to 21st century stereotypes. Harper Lee has conveniently forgotten the Atomic Age came before The Feminine Mystique and the Equal Rights Movements.
Only two passing references are made to To Kill a Mockingbird. Any reader who picks up this book anticipating another fascinating and exciting "Where are they now?" tale will be very disappointed. Jem is dead. Dill Harris fought in The Good War and is currently living it up in Italy. The glaring absence of Boo Radley, the Robinson family and Mayella Ewell is why this book has no place alongside its counterpart.
Go Set A Watchman is no Great American Novel. Readers will have a hard time walking around in its shoes. It has no shoes.
Told entirely in third person limited, Jean Louise is rarely called "Scout" these days. She's grown up into a career woman. She's here in Maycomb for a visit and spends the entire novel drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, shunning marriage to Henry Clinton, and looking down her nose at everyone who doesn't appreciate equal rights and feminism the way she does.
When she's not daydreaming about her coming of age experiences, (menstruation, how babies are made, her first school dance) Jean Louise Finch is screaming bloody murder at her boyfriend and Atticus for attending a KKK meeting.
That's the entire plot of this novel. I'm serious. Nothing happens.
After talking to everyone: Henry Clinton, Uncle Jack Finch, Aunt Alexandra, and finally her father (to whom she should've run to in the first place but that would be plagiarizing To Kill a Mockingbird) Jean Louise Finch finally comes to terms with the fact that Harper Lee was wrong to make Atticus Finch into a Christ Figure because what kind of a world would this be if men were actually good for something?
Oh, and she's never getting married. This is 1957 after all.
There is some swearing but no f-bombs, sex scenes or violence. It is appropriate for all middle-grade readers and above but it is no literary classic and will never be celebrated in freshman English classes like that Other Book.
Please, let's keep it that way.