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The undeniable pull of “Go Set a Watchman”

Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchmen” is easily the most anticipated work of fiction in years.
Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchmen” is easily the most anticipated work of fiction in years. Star-Telegram

Ponder all that you have read in your life and try to remember what stands out from the rest. Relative to how much you have read, what you specifically recall is likely a low figure. If you remember it, more than likely it’s good.

Few books ever written compacted more memorable words, sentences, lessons and scenes than Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is a standard of what makes for good reading.

Any work that can transcend generations while appealing to a mass audience qualifies as good. “Mockingbird” is as important as any written in American literature, and should forever remain a staple for a high school kid. It is the rarest of fiction books that changes lives, and society.

Despite the many signs that the “Go Set a Watchman” - the followup to “To Kill A Mockingbird” - is an obvious money-grab and the exploitation of an author in declining health, the lure of reading more about Scout, Boo or Atticus Finch is too great to pass.

And how bad can it possibly be? Harper Lee wrote it.

Few books in recent memory have generated as much attention as “Watchman”, which its publisher has released both the first and last chapters. I understand releasing Chapter 1, but why the last?

Of course it won’t be as good. Of course it will be a disappointment. There is a reason why the reclusive Lee, when she was in a sound mental state, never made any attempt to have it published. She very likely did not think it was any good. Most creative types believe their work stinks, and does not compare favorably to their peers, and certainly not their mentors.

According to the publisher, the book is set 20 years after “Mockingbird” ends, and reviews of the early released material say a “major character” has already been killed.

This is all I want to know before joining the millions of people that will buy this book on Tuesday to jump back into a story that will no doubt jettison me to fond memories of school, of love, of parental worship, of fear, of innocence, of confusion, of race, of sadness, of adolescence, and that of endless learning.

Even if all “Go Set a Watchman” does is to simply remind us of what it was like to experience those feelings, from a book, it will succeed.

The pull of any sequel is simply to catch up with the characters from the original, and to see where their story is going; a sequel normally falls flat for the obvious reason that the surprise is gone from the first, and the story lines are uninspired.

Knowing that, I want to know what happened to Atticus, Scout and Jem. How does Scout sees the world, and race, as an adult? Has she handled life’s inevitable hardships with as much grace as she did as a little girl?

There is an excellent chance that “Watchmen” will fall into the same trap as any sequel - the standard is too high, and the odds of capturing the wonder of the first are too great.

But we are not talking about some Hollywood producer simply looking to earn a few more dollars. We are talking about Harper Lee, whose original work is so brilliant and timeless perhaps her “trash” is far better than the work of the commoner.

“Watchman” won’t be as good as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but I’m not betting on Harper Lee writing garbage.

In reviewing the many articles about this book’s controversial release, it does not sound like Harper Lee ever wanted us to read “Go Set a Watchman.” For that, I am sorry. On behalf of so many who love “To Kill A Mockingbird” and for whom that book means so much, I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof

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