I read “Go Set a Watchman” and I learned that we could love who we please but we should marry our own. I found the advice intriguing and recommended the book to my daughter. I also added, given her young age, that there were descriptive paragraphs reminiscent of Truman Capote, or Harper Lee, and even of Nelle’s new attorney, Sonja Carter.
And that’s the funny part. The book reads like an apology for a bad small town attorney, one who has no principles, but who has no other place to go and make money. I can almost visualize the small town ambitious Sonja Carter finding some scraps which the good friends Capote and Harper wrote down about other stories set in the terrifyingly provincial, read racial, south (I still stay away from it). She reads them and then she goes home and talks to her husband and they both realize how much money and fun they could have when, years later, after the reviews are in, they come out and tell everybody what they did. If people like Sonja’s book under Harper Lee’s name – Nelle, as Sonja calls her – then people will like her future books, Sonia &co. think. But, I doubt that Sonja has the chops or the imagination to write other books. Her husband, maybe, or by the formula she has adopted, “the lawyer as ghost writer,” maybe her future lawyers when she becomes old and frail and slightly demented: happy to smile at the camera and nod to whatever people close to her suggest.
No one else has read the book as I did. Mostly because the reviews – including the ones on social media – were written by people who had not read the book. One in particular was very honest about it. The author, African American, listened to 15 minutes of the book being read by a white actress and that destroyed his appetite for the book, but not his paycheck for writing a review. So, if you have not read the book because you think one of your favorite father-figures, Atticus Finch, turns out to be a hick, or a redneck, or a cretine, I am here to tell you that you have nothing to fear. He remains an outstanding local attorney. Furthermore, Atticus is not the main character. His daughter, Scout is not the main character either. Her beau, a little boy Atticus sheltered during the years, whose name is Henry “Hank” Clinton (yes, another hick by that last name became President) is.
Hank has become a surrogate son to Atticus, who wants him Scout’s future husband. Hank is the hick turned valiant knight of good southernership – read that as he is open to incremental changes and eventual assimilation, within limits, of African Americans within the white community, at the pace American People have come to know and understand.
This is an ode to Hank. It is a book about how not to feel ashamed of being small minded and mediocre as long as you avoid strife and violence. This is a book about having no dreams because all we can do is keep the evil at bay, and, as I said, marry within our own clan.
I know that this is not an encouraging review, but I did not spoil the plot. I encourage you to read it especially if you are taking the train to Podunk and the people next to you seem intent in listening to their music or texting their friends, rather than starting a discussion about another summer having passed us by.
The ShortSighted NewYorker: Sonja Carter, or the Small-Town Lawyer Turned Big Time Ghost Writer