Go Set A Watchman: a novel by Harper Lee. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. 278 pages. *****
Written in the mid-1950s, Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch (Scout), returns to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York to visit her father. Greeted at the train station by her brother, Jem’s, lifelong friend, Henry Clinton kissed her in a non-brotherly way. Updated on her father's rheumatoid arthritis, Jean Louise is not ready for all of the changes she encounters in her hometown. Haunted by her childhood memories and the attitude of the townspeople, Jean Louise begins to question her Father's actions. Seeing her father and Henry at a Maycomb Citizen's Council Meeting, Jean Louise can't believe what she is hearing and seeing, it makes her physically sick. She confronts her father and accuses Atticus of denying "hope" to the black townspeople, "you are telling them that Jesus loves them, but not much." Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that her conscience is her watchman. Jean Louise must find her own way and form her own opinions, not rely on her father or anyone else.
I didn't know what to expect from this novel. I reread To Kill A Mockingbird before starting it. I avoided reading the reviews and listening to the controversy surrounding the publication date. Some in the publishing world crying foul now that 89 year-old Ms. Lee is frail, hard of hearing and stroke victim living in a nursing home, who vowed never to publish another book. Exploited or is there some question as to whether she even wrote this version of the manuscript. The fact that HarperCollins announced that it sold 1.1 million copies in a week's time, adds fuel to the already burning fire.
I wanted to like it, but didn't expect to like it as much as I did. I heard Scout's voice loud and clear and I was not surprised by the norms and views of the times. Having grown up in a city in the "north" the book provided a glimpse into small town living in Alabama during the 1950s. The fact that Jean Louise idolizes her father and realizes he isn't who she thought he was provided a forum for Lee to debate the issues of the time. Brilliantly told, a perfect companion to Mockingbird, supporting Lee's vision for the future. I came away with the feeling of "hope" and irrespective of the controversy surrounding it, I am glad it has been published.
Harper Lee born in 1926 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Her widely acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird is required reading in many literature classes.