Monday, July 27, 2015


This might seem like kind of a cheat for a GF, and for the most part it is. These are usually the last things I write before turning off the lights and slipping under the covers. I might brush my teeth after writing this, but that's about it.

I'm posting my thoughts on Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN, but this wasn't written on the fly. It is my Goodreads review. However, I do have a few additional thoughts afterward. I try my best to stay away from spoilers in Goodreads reviews, so what follows this reproduction is a spoiler, and it's provided only for people who have read the book. Ready? Here's my review:

I remember when I first heard about this book. At first, I felt regret. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD did not need a sequel, even if the book was written before TKAM. But . . . well . . . I knew I was going to read it anyway because the world desperately needs more books from Harper Lee. One book simply wasn't enough. GSAW alone was something to celebrate.

Then the scandal came out: Atticus Finch was no longer a good man. I only read about that, so I didn't know the specifics. It enraged the readers of the world. I didn't listen to them. I wanted to discover this for myself.

I can understand why this book angered so many people. It's a hard book. This book hurt me deeply, almost as much as Jack Ketchum's THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (but for obviously different reasons). I, like many readers in the world, not only view Atticus Finch as a hero, but we were all raised by him. He woke within us a sense of morality, and many of us have lived by this moral code throughout our lives. Sometimes we did better, sometimes worse, but dammit, we did our best to do as Atticus would. When we discover in this book that not only is he a racist, but he's also a member of the local "citizens council" (read that as a group dedicated the preservation of the Great American White Way), it's heartbreaking. It's devastating. We feel betrayed just as badly as if we'd have discovered our own fathers were child molesters.

And Scout--now known by her real name, Jean Louise--experiences this exact feeling. You know, I've always liked Scout, but now that we see her as an adult, as Jean Louise Finch, I think I might have fallen in love with her. She grew up just as I thought she would, as much of a tomboy as a woman can be and still maintain a modicum of respectability. The way she conducts herself with Hank, a childhood friend who has become her kinda-sorta fiance, is a wonder to behold, especially for a book written in the 'Sixties. She is absolutely everything I look for in a woman. Here's something the internet didn't talk about: She is absolutely torn apart by this revelation about her father. She crusades for equal rights, and to discover that not only Atticus, but also her entire family and Hank, are all racists, it destroys her world. And to make matters worse, when she visits Calpurnia, the Finchs' old housemaid, she discovers that Calpurnia doesn't want anything to do with her. It's a very painful book.

I think it's painful because it's all too real. Considering how badly this book hurt me, it's tempting to want to say that I wish it was never published. But the best art can be exquisitely painful, and this is, in many ways, a more artful book than its predecessor. It unflinchingly looks at an unfortunate thing that happens all too often in real life. It's something I've witnessed and felt myself. The people you idolize when you're a kid--usually your parents or grandparents or whoever--tend to grow old and change. Before you know it, your father, who defended an innocent black man against a rape charge is suddenly talking about not letting black kids go to the same school as white kids. Or saying that black people are too stupid to help run the government. And so on. Perhaps if Atticus Finch were still around, he'd be gearing up to vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

This isn't to say that this is a very dark and brooding book. It takes about 100 pages before the story really begins, and a lot of it is spent in delightful remembrance of the Maycomb we knew as kids. When Jean Louise and Hank go out to Finch's Landing and wind up swimming--fully clothed--and word gets around that they were decadently skinnydipping? Incredibly funny, especially when Alexandra goes into damage control mode, even as she gives Jean Louise holy hell for doing something like that. Another great scene: when Jean Louise is hanging out with all the Maycomb ladies, and their conversations just start coming together in very comedic ways. Jean Louise gets overwhelmed by their stupidity and goes off on an awesome rant that you've got to read to believe. And just wait until you read Jean Louise's flashback to a high school dance she went to with Hank.

Yes, this book hurt me, but I also derived a great deal of enjoyment from it. Now I want to reread TKAM and see if I can see the real Atticus Finch peeking through the facade of Scout's memory.

PS: Is it weird that I envisioned Dr. Finch, Jean Louise's uncle, as an aging Warren Ellis?

OK, now for the spoiler part. If you haven't finished the novel, stop reading here. A lot of people are taking the ending to task for being weak. What the fuck did they expect Jean Louise to do? Leave Maycomb in a fit of rage and never even acknowledge her loved ones for the rest of her life? To ignore Atticus, the man who--even inadvertently--shaped her into the woman she became?

No. I would get that if Atticus--who joined the KKK just to see the faces under the hoods--decided to start burning crosses or lynching people. If he and his sister and Hank and all of the Maycomb citizens council decided that the best way to handle the "black plague" was a form of Hitler's horrifying Final Solution? By all means, fuck these assholes from here until the end of time. Nonviolence goes a long way with me. Many of my relatives are racists. Some of my friends are racists. I think they're wrong, and they should rethink their philosophies.

Jean Louise learns to love her father again, even though she can never believe in what he believes. In a heartrending scene, she attacks her father for not raising her in a normal, black-hating way because then she wouldn't have to deal with the horror of learning her father was not the man she thought he was. But we know she could never mean that. We know she's happy with who she is, despite the insane bullshit of her Maycomb family.

Dr. Finch--the only member of her family who doesn't exhibit a particle of racism in this book--helps her see how she can never turn her back on her loved ones, no matter the lunacy of what they nonviolently believe.

Love. That's the answer to life, the universe and everything, no matter what Douglas Adams says.

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