I think it’s time to write about Go Set a Watchman. Not because I’m happy with the book. Maybe I need to write about it because I’m not. Happy, that is. I’m not happy because Scout is going by Jean Louise in this book, and she is wholly herself and wholly me as well, mostly in the way she reacts poorly to change. I hate having to read about my faults — though it is nice to feel I am not the only one who would prefer the world to remain static on occasion.
I liked it best at Jean Louise’s flashback to her childhood, a moment remotely similar to reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I think it was this moment which led to the novel I know and love so dearly. It’s one flash of familiarity, right before Atticus is shown to be anything but the man I looked up to for years (I know, he’s fictional. Gregory Peck is not. And Gregory Peck is Atticus, okay?).
I should have known what was coming. I heard rumors about Atticus before I even held the book in my hands at Barnes and Noble. It was those rumors which I ignored so I could buy the book. I ignored them because I didn’t want to be afraid. I didn’t want a story in a book to be more than I was willing to face. So I forced myself to shove the fear down, far enough that I could reach my credit card.
Anyway, I reached this beautiful flashback moment with Scout and Jem and Dill and it felt like home. And it made me afraid again. Like Jean Louise, I’d rather keep things the way I remember them. I know it’s unrealistic, but I’d prefer to be the only dynamic element in my life, and I think Jean Louise would too. I’m on her side all the way through the book; I’ll take the days when Boo lived down the street and it was hot, hot summer with the ladies and the talcum powder and Dill popping up next door.
At this point, I wrote to a friend of mine, complaining about the impending doom I could sense approaching. He told me maybe change in Atticus’ character would be for the best, that maybe flaws would make him more relatable. I was irritated, and replied to him saying I didn’t want Atticus to crouch just so I could see eye-to-eye with him. I told him I’d rather find myself rising on tiptoes to get a better look, because I didn’t see how things could continue if Atticus wasn’t the good and wonderful man I believed in. Okay, maybe I didn’t say it in those exact words. I think I erased the melodrama from that particular e-mail.
I’m not saying Go Set a Watchman was the most hideous prose I’ve ever read. I’m also not saying you should buy it immediately and read it. But I am saying it was a story I needed to read. I’m not happy about it, but there it is. I’m always afraid to face change when it stares me in the face. Big or small, doesn’t matter. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t, that’s what I say. This book never stood a chance at making me happy. What I wanted wasn’t a new story, but continuation of the story I loved, an immersion into time and place without any character or plot development. I wouldn’t have been afraid of that. But it wouldn’t have been a story. At least, not one worth reading.
After I finished the book I wrote to my friend again. I told him I was emotionally traumatized and that I wanted everything to stay the same, always. He kindly ignored my hysterics and got to the heart of the matter. He told me maybe change isn’t all bad: “It reminds us that we were made for permanence and eternity, and that we will not find that on this Earth…change forces us to define ourselves not by our surroundings and other people, which change constantly, but by something, or Someone, who doesn’t change.”
I hate it when he’s right.