Go Set a Watchman is a bitter pill. It examines race relations in the 50s, after the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in ways that are disheartening...maddening even. But are they unrealistic? Sadly, no. They are far too realistic.
Jean Louise (can't we just call her Scout?) is making her yearly visit home when she discovers that there's quite a bit amiss in Maycomb. Race relations are bubbling beneath the town's surface and threatening to spew as they are all over the South. She sees the greatest evidence of this in those closest to her, and her reaction is near-violent anger, diatribes, and no shortage of vomiting.
This book is peppered with shades of To Kill a Mockingbird. Some passages are the same, actually, while other bits show off the best of Harper Lee's abilities...her humor and insight...in this new context. Other parts of the writing are didactic and Jean Louise's inner monologues border on self-aggrandizing.
Alas, while bits of this book were downright boring (most of the first half), the end was complex, thought-provoking, but also terribly rushed and far too neat.
Of all the issues Go Set a Watchman attempts to deal with...this is the one that haunts me.
What do we do with our racist relatives? The people who have invested their time in us, who have raised us? Who have been our best friends but who are changed as they age and as the world evolves. The ones who don't share a deep-seeded calling to social justice. Do we run from them? Disown them? Accept that they're flawed in ways that are deplorable but carry on with family dinners? These are extremely personal questions. Personal struggles. Every adult I know has had to deal with this question in some form or fashion whether they choose to give it any serious thought or not. While I'm taken aback by my family's willingness to shout their devotion to the Confederate battle flag, I'm sure they're fairly taken aback that I will argue with them about it from time to time. That I feel differently. We are two sides of a coin...raised in the same place, taught the same things, but we are so, so different.
And in dealing with this question, that's where I felt the book was far too rushed. It could've been a much more affecting, thoughtful, critical examination if it wasn't tied up so neatly and quickly.
Am I sorry I read it? Absolutely not.
For some first-rate examinations of the book that represent a spectrum of opinions, check out these posts:
- Thomas at Hogglestock
- The Book Riot podcast
- Adam from Roof Beam Reader
- Cassie from Books and Bowel Movements
Publication Date: July 2015
Source: Bought it myself!