When we first heard that Harper Lee was publishing another novel, my brother and I immediately started text-exchanging potential titles: To Revive A Mockingbird; Scout’s Honor; The Lawyer, The Bitch, and the Chifforobe; Yule Tide: Vengeance Is His… I was so excited. Nothing quite glorified sibling alliance like To Kill A Mockingbird and I was pumped to hear the rest of the story. That it was written first intrigued me to no end.
I refused to read any reviews before I read the book, so afterwards, finding out that pretty much everyone vehemently hated Go Set A Watchman made me feel like a tool for liking it. I feel pedestrian for loving the “string of anecdotes,” as one review called it, so much that it made me actually MISS the romanticized oppressive heat of the Alabama summertime. I feel like a chump for latching onto Jean Louise so intensely from the first page and letting her drag me around, clinging to her ferociously, through the book. She is MY Scout. How dare anyone speak a word against her?
Bella reminds me of Scout. I have always loved the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird— Those kids are perfect. I identified with them as a child. I identify my own kids with them now. Malcolm is a gentle soul with the huge imagination but talks big and has an underlying protective streak. Bella…one night she announced, while standing on a chair with her hands on her hips, that she wanted to live by herself because I always tell her what to do, and then proceeded to eat her Cheerios topless. Malcolm has his moments, but he’s happiest humming to himself while building Lego creations. Bella… Let’s just look at this photo, shall we?
The only photographic documentation of my baby’s church dedication
She exasperates me to no end. But she’s exactly the kind of character I adore in books. Which delights me.
I savored the first page of Go Set A Watchman, positively GLEEFUL at being reunited with Scout and Jem. I loved them in the book. Pretended to BE them in the movie. I couldn’t wait to see them grown up. I had it all planned out: Jem would have been to the war and back. He’d have a couple of kids who’d be adorably similar to him and Scout, but with even better one-liners. Scout would have this awesome relationship with them and would banter with and rank on Jem as they did when they were children. Stuff would happen in the story, but for me, it was all about Jem and Scout.
Me, finding out Jem is dead
Unceremoniously Dead. It took me quite sometime to get over that. I couldn’t even concentrate on what was going on because I was so shattered. Cuz, Jem wasn’t Jem. He was my brother. He was my son. Scout wasn’t Scout–she was me. She was Bella.
The fact that Atticus is not Gregory-Peck-Awesome-Atticus bothered me. Of course. But honestly, Dead Jem is more disturbing. I had wanted to name my baby Jem or Atticus. Seriously. I’m glad now that Sam shot me down on those. The names have been a bit ruined for me with now with disappointment and grief.
A childhood friend passed away unexpectedly. I hadn’t seen him in many years, so he remains 12 years old in my memory. It still sneaks up on me and I tear up and can’t breathe right. He’s not my brother or my son, but I can imagine how I would feel if he was. Photographs are both treasures and weapons. Memories are comforting but unspeakably painful. On intense days I’ll look at a shoe or a toy and have to suck oxygen into my lungs as if I’d been underwater for too long. And my kids are only at school. I can pick them up soon.
And then when I do pick them up, more often than not, all I do is yell at them or make them do homework or tell them no, they can’t have another snack cuz it’s almost dinner time.
I love the beginning of stories. The possibility, the “anything can happen-ness,” but I also love the excellent twists.
Not seeing something coming,
the pleasant surprises, the redemption of chaos, the puzzle coming together. Love it.
Not so much the unpleasant surprises…
But that’s life, right? You can’t have an excellent twist if there is no set up to begin with. So we have to risk the unexcellent twists. The disappointments. The griefs. People aren’t who we thought they were. Good guys die.
Should Go Set A Watchman ever have been published? Did she really want it to be? Is To Kill A Mockingbird ruined now? It happened first, but with this taste left in my mouth, does it change who they were that summer? I loved that Harper Lee wrote the perfect story and then stopped. It was If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler perfection. Cuz it ended.
A few weeks ago I noticed a suspicious looking freckle on Bella’s jaw. I thought it should be checked out. Then preemptively stifled any panic that might even be THINKING about rising. To prove a point (to myself), I did not take any action. After a week, at which point the freckle was the only thing I could see when I looked at my daughter, I released the hounds. There was all kinds of panic. So much so that from the time I decided to terrify myself as I gave her the plate of frozen waffles at around 6:30 to the time I left her at school and was driving home at 7:40, I was crying, bargaining with God, FREAKING out because as I was wheeling and dealing with the Almighty an ad for Queen’s Medical Center’s new CANCER WARD came on the radio, and had already resolved to shave my own head so that we would look the same after her chemo. I anticipated that Sam and Malcolm would be on board as well. That’d either be a damn inspiring sight or
I had taken a picture of the freckle and emailed it to our doctor as soon as I got home. Then proceeded to wait for the response. It’s a good thing Bella’s powers of perception have not quite reached telepathy (though they are close). She could have had ANYTHING. I was all over her. Hugs, crafts, snacks, tv shows. The next day I heard from our doctor. It was a very common discoloration. Watch it, but no cause for alarm.
She was in time-out for insubordination a few hours later. All was right with the world.
On very introspective days I wonder why I did this to myself. Why did I want children if all I’m going to do is worry about them and perhaps grieve the loss of them one day? What if I’d never had them? Would I necessarily miss them if I’d never known them? Is it easier to go through life wondering what it’d be like to have something, able to invent emotions and investments, or is it less painful to actually have the thing, experience the love, humor, fulfillment, all the good things, but risk losing it at some point?
I’m pretty ticked that “everyone” seems to have hated the book. Questioning “Nell’s” wish to publish it at all. Judgement on her skill as a young writer. Yeah, there are long diatribe-y parts, and the characters make choices that we don’t like. But good grief, did anyone read The Finkler Question? I want to scream just thinking about it. SO BORING. And “everyone” sang its praises. Anyway. All the anticipation and expectation put on Go Set A Watchman was possibly unfair. I’d still read it again. It’s not perfect. Nothing is. No one is. And that doesn’t change the fact that she’s MY Scout.