Shielded from the hubbub of Internet critics and literature zealots, I picked up my copy of Harper Lee’s highly anticipated Go Set A Watchman in Chicago O’Hare Airport over two weeks ago. My serendipitous planning could not have worked better. The Hudson bookstore had a surplus of copies for such a recent release date, and I had an extended layover. With no Internet access and an open mind, I plowed through the entire hyped sequel during my flight from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The novel, a semi- sequel to Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and her second work ever, was subject to scrutiny far before the July 14 release date. With Mockingbird’s “American Sweetheart” status and the anomaly of being Lee’s only book, Watchman peaked interest nationwide. I, too, had my share of inquiries, yet I had no reviews or external biases to latch on to. Luckily, the circumstance of this reading experience allowed my opinions to form organically.
I started the novel feeling nervous because I thought I needed to reread Mockingbird in order to maintain understanding. I was happy to find that Watchman’s plot brings back familiar players and some new family members with little need for background remembrance. Another surprising facet: the plot is told from third person omniscient, a stark contrast to Mockingbird’s first person Scout narrator. Watchman follows a mid twenties “Jean Louise” as she visits home in Maycomb after her schooling in New York. Gone are the days of spunky tomboy Scout—Watchman’s leading lady comes complete with a serious boyfriend and a grown perspective on her hometown.
The biggest surprise, however, was not in Jean Louise’s maturation. For me, it was difficult to witness her relationships with family members change, especially her father Atticus. Atticus Finch is one of my favorite literary heroes; he’s humble, grounded and steadfast. The change in time period and point of view made the tone of Jean Louise and Attius’ relationship more questioning and unsure, which was difficult to swallow as such a dedicated fan of their father-daughter bond.
Lee’s tone in Watchman differs greatly from Mockingbird, thus my reaction to her work was metamorphosed. I fond that I read through it quicker, however, because I wasn’t sure how Lee would tie up her continuation novel. After finishing the book and researching various articles and reviews, I learned that many other readers had the same hurdles as I. Challenging the relationships of characters we’d grown so close to, as well accepting a different writing style from Lee, was the universal struggle for critics. What I learned from Watchman was the importance of respecting change over time, albeit fictional characters, an author’s writing style, or our own opinions. Once I was able to move past those initial instincts and appreciate Watchman as it’s own book separate from it’s precursor, the reading experience was all the more enjoyable and recommendable.