Ever since publication of Go Set a Watchman was announced, the public has been outraged.
This adjunct to Harper Lee's near-flawless To Kill a Mockingbird has been more controversial than The Satanic Verses. Many consider it a bigger scam than The Hitler Diaries and Clifford Irving's Howard Hughes biography combined.
Yet this affronted consumer base welcomes endless mutations of Pride and Prejudice, even a zombie version, and handed millions to a fan fiction scribe who co-opted a bestseller. Modern writers have struck gold taking classics like Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights and Little Women in improbable directions, one even garnering a Pulitzer. They've killed characters, taken liberties with everything from setting to sexual orientation and too often, though not always, embellished these tales with pedestrian plotting and insipid prose.
The Mockingbird author's follow-up has so far been condemned on the grounds that: A) it's a first draft unworthy of publication B) it portrays Atticus Finch in a less than heroic light C) Lee was duped into releasing it D) she probably didn't write it and E) the original is better.
Does that about cover it?
Whether it should have been published is moot, but there's truth to the argument that this installment is inferior to its precursor.
I know because unlike many of its detractors, I've read it. What about the rest of you?
Go Set a Watchman is at times clumsy, rambling and preachy. It's the work of a gifted novice who later achieved fame because her manuscript Atticus received superb editing and a more resonant title. Nevertheless, Watchman has several points in its favor.
1.Like it or not, the portrait of Atticus rings true. The lawyer who defends an African American rape suspect is a product of his environment, so this brave act doesn't alter his stand on racial separatism. Even Mockingbird, depicting him through the eyes of an idealistic first grader, provides clues; Atticus objects to Scout's using a racial epithet not because it's cruel or unjust but because it's "common."
2. It colors in the Finch back story. Ever wonder about Atticus' courtship or his wife's death? I did, so I savored these details. I also liked knowing their source was impeccable.
3. It informs the Scout-Atticus relationship. As a New Yorker amid the 1950s racial unrest, Jean Louise inevitably clashes with Atticus. We may yearn for Mockingbird's perfect dad, but seeing each other as they truly are deepens the father-daughter bond.
4. Some of its passages are priceless. The best scenes, such as young Scout's faux pas when the minister comes for dinner, are dead on--insightful, heartbreaking and/or hilarious. Think of them as Mockingbird outtakes.
5. It illuminates the lives of both Scout and Harper Lee. Scout's difficult homecoming mirrors Lee's visits to Monroeville, shedding light on the writer's connection to a town she found stifling but once again made her permanent home late in life.
Whatever its flaws, editors saw enough potential in Watchman to help cherry-pick its flashbacks and fashion them into To Kill a Mockingbird. Nothing can diminish that masterpiece. Not even the more modest work that formed its foundation.