Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's a Sin to Mock a Mockingbird, Opus 2

 (Spoiler alert: If you're planning on reading one of the three million copies of GO SET A WATCHMAN already printed by its publisher, you may want to save this blog for afterwards, as it could possibly be at odds with your enjoyment of a historic best-seller. Fair warning.)

Based solely on reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (more than once, more than half a century ago), I thought Scout might have grown up to be a pretty decent writer.  Instead, she migrated  to New York City, where she lived for several years before returning to south Alabama at age 26 to marry a high school beau she had not seen in five years and perhaps serve as nursemaid to her 72 year old father, the much beloved Atticus Finch.  She immediately catches them in the act of attending not a topless bar or whore house but a White Citizens Council meeting. 

Are you believing this yet?  Me neither. 

Jacket photo from GO SET A WATCHMAN

The best parts of  Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN are those, not nearly enough, in which she conjures up her childhood pals, all known fondly from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, charming Winnie the Pooh version of growing up in the Jim Crow south, if you were white.  Tempting as it is, it is not easy to write from the point view of children.  Many have tried.  Most fail.  Harper Lee has a flair for it. 

Mark Twain is the gold standard for writing in the voice of a child, such as Huckleberry Finn: “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

Twain could be a merciless critic. In "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses,"“Cooper’s art has some defects.  In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115.  It breaks the record.”

I have not totaled the literary offenses in GO SET A WATCHMAN, but they are numerous and pervasive.  For TO KILL MOCKINGBIRD, a skilled editor held Harper Lee’s hand through several rewrites and revisions.  Jonathan Miller details in the July 12, 2015 New York Times “The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.”  Throughout GO SET A WATCHMAN, shallow intellectual argument, even unedited notes, appear more regularly than fiction.  It is easy to imagine the original submission of Ms. Lee’s manuscript evoking a response such as, “Focus on the youngsters.  Forget the rest.”  To her credit, she did.

GO SET A WATCHMAN is published by HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, owner and master.  Prominent among media properties of News Corp. is Fox News, purveyors of, well, don't get me started, but I am certainly suspicious when their media products include apologia such as in GO SET A WATCHMAN, historical distortions, and blatant states-rights, every man for himself conservatism.  If a soft and sweet liberal icon is besmirched in the process, oh, happy day at News Corp.  

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