Originally published July 29, 2016
I was at my library the other day, looking for an audio book that would capture my interest and give me something to consider on my trips to and from Starbucks. Among modern mysteries and WWII histories, I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, so I settled on Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Yes, I "settled" on the most anticipated book of the decade. What can I say? I'm not drawn to southern fiction.
After a few hours of listening to the tones of Reese Witherspoon, narrating the complex reality of Southern society in the 1950s, I knew I had made a good choice. Go Set a Watchman is highly controversial book, mostly because of issues surrounding Lee's consent to publish it. From what I understand, she did write it, but she wrote it as a first draft to To Kill a Mockingbird. On top of that tangle is the controversy about Atticus Finch himself, who is not the patron saint of equality we want him to be. In fact, during one dialogue, I (and probably most of my generation) disagree strongly with his views on race. But he still emerges as a good man. Is such a thing possible? Can we disagree strongly with a man and still respect him? Sure, when we're talking about gun control or foreign policy. But what about race? What about Calpurnia and her children? This is Scout's struggle, and Lee portrays it with realism and emotion.
If you're interested, you should read the book before reading the reviews. In fact, don't read the reviews at all, except for Ursula Le Guin's "A Personal Take on Go Set a Watchman." She cuts through the "outrage" and takes Lee's point seriously.
By the way, Lee's discourse on the 10th amendment was worth a read all by itself. Lee remembered her civics class.