I feel like I have been duped by HarperCollins. A few months ago I pre-ordered the text that I was told was the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that I have read, re-read, and taught for nearly 20 years. I was excited. It was the first time in a very long time that I was truly looking forward to the release of a novel. So, I put down the cash, got my pre-order ticket, and taped it to the July release date on my kitchen calendar in anticipation of the event. I heard the rumblings and grumblings of others who read it, severely disappointed, but I wanted to read it for myself and have my own opinion. I have now. And if you plan to read further, remember this is MY OPINION… and I am allowed to have one. First of all, throughout my process of reading it, I’ve learned that this text was never intended to be a sequel to Mockingbird… It is in fact the first draft that eventually became Mockingbird after much rewriting. I learned that Harper Lee submitted the Watchman text in 1957, and it was rejected.
Every scene with Jean Louise and her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch, is like a verbal obstacle course, and sometimes the reader needs to stop and go over certain obstacles several times in the attempt to create meaning. However, in one scene he makes a random statement without context, “Oh yes, dear me, yes. The novel must tell a story.” This statement sums up my critique…. the novel must tell a story… and this one just doesn’t.
The narrative fluctuates from first to third person, sometimes even in the same paragraph, which is not as confusing as you would think, but it seems like Lee couldn’t decide how she wanted to write it. The characters’ descriptions, words, and actions are often incongruous, which creates more caricatures rather than characters who readers want to know. As a reader, if I had not already known the Mockingbird characters, I would not have cared about the ones created in Watchman. They are not interesting or compelling enough to earn the reader’s attention or care.
The events of the text, whether in present day or in Jean Louise’s childhood memories, are pointless and disjointed leaving the reader wondering what that event has to do with anything else in the text – and the answer is usually nothing.
In the final few chapters, true dialogue is abandoned and speeches take its place… rambling, preachy, political speeches. A history class would enjoy the perspectives of people during this time of change in America, but a casual reader, not so much.
I give credit to the publisher back in 1957 for having the wisdom not to publish this text as it is but to give this new author the encouragement to give the characters she was playing with some depth and meaning… To craft one overarching story with meaningful scenes and subplots that contribute to that story and its themes… To allow the story to speak for itself and allow the reader to internalize the story and personalize its message.
The power of this text comes only in its comparison to Mockingbird. It shows what a weak text can become after much revision.
In one of her last interviews, conducted in 1964, Lee said, “I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.” … which she did.