Prather’s Pick: A much-anticipated novel
July 28, 2015
"Go Set a Watchman," by Harper Lee, was written in the mid-1950s. Although it was written first, but not published at the time, this newly-released novel is a sequel to "To Kill a Mocking-bird." Many of the characters are the same.
As "Go Set a Watchman" opens, 26-year-old Jean Louise Finch ("Scout") is on a train, headed to her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama. She's going to visit her aging father, Atticus, who still practices law in Maycomb. Jean lives in New York.
When his wife died, Atticus raised Jean Louise and her brother Jem alone, with help of their Negro cook, Calpurnia. When, years later, Atticus developed rheumatoid arthritis he needed help, so his sister Alexandra came to live with him. Calpurnia was too old to help him on days when he couldn't tie his shoes or button his shirts.
Jean Louise expects her father to meet her at the train station, but she finds Henry (Hank) Clinton there instead. He said this is one of the days her father's hands and shoulders are giving him fits, rendering him unable to drive.
Hank isn't a stranger. Jean Louise and Hank grew up together, but he left Maycomb each summer. Atticus looked after Hank when his mother died, managing his money and even secretly adding to his account. Hank went to the army and later attended law school. When Jem died unexpectedly, Hank came on as a junior partner with Atticus at the law firm.
Jean Louise and Hank have been dating for some time, and everyone expects them to marry — even Jean Louise and Hank.
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As Jean Louise settles into Maycomb for her vacation, childhood memories come flooding back. They make for delightful reading. There were the summers when she, Jem, and Dill (a boy who lived with his great-aunt each summer, next door to the Finch family) played pretend games, such as Tarzan, or put on their own revival, patterned after revivals they had attended.
An especially amusing memory came from Jean Louise's sixth grade year when she thought she was pregnant because she had kissed a boy.
Jean Louise has come home for a visit each year for the past five years, but this year is different. Things are not the same as they were in the years that she, Jem, and Dill played together. For one thing, there are civil rights tensions. For another, what she has always thought about family members and townspeople is not what she thought; it has set Jean Louise's world spinning.
It begins when the sheriff calls Atticus. Calpurnia's grandson has run over and killed Mr. Heady, who had probably been drinking too much. Atticus said he and Hank will take on the case. It is what Jean Louise expects, but the reason he will take it on isn't what she expects.
And then there's what Jean Louise hears at a City Council meeting.
The "watchman" has to do with conscience.
This is a brilliantly-written novel that reflects the time period in which it was set. It is thought-provoking. It will become a classic.
This book is available in a variety of stores. The hardcover copy costs $27.99.