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Go Set A Watchman,” A Rough Draft or a Complete Novel?

Since its release, Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman,” (GSAW) has been a bestseller, despite receiving - for the most part - less than glowing reviews.  Much of the discussion centers around whether the book should have been published, because it’s so different from Lee’s classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Lee biographer, Charles J. Shields, joins Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today to discuss the book and address some of the issues that have cropped up since the book’s publication. Later in the conversation, Henderson and Shields are joined by the owner of Brilliant Books, Peter Makin, who is offering a refund to his customers because he believes that the marketing of GSAW, was misleading.  

  • Why Mockingbird and GSAW are so different:  When Harper Lee moved to New York she became involved with an editor that had to decide whether to produce a book that would sell or showcase someone with strong literary merit.  The editor chose a book that would sell, which became Mockingbird, the rejected manuscript would eventually become GSAW
  • Go Set a Watchman: Shields says that GSAW is without literary merit. It is vulgar and says hurtful things about African Americans and if Harper Lee wasn’t the author, it would have never been published. The character of Atticus Finch, is somewhat of a villain in GSAW, which is huge contrast from how he is portrayed in Mockingbird. “Writing is a craft. Most accomplished authors would’ve burned this,” Shields concludes. 
  • Truman Capote’s Influence: Capote was the model for the character Dill in Mockingbird and a close friend of Lee’s. “She showed him the manuscript and he pointed out things that were too long, that’s it,” Shields says about Capote’s hand in the writing of Mockingbird.  He tells Stephen that Lee and Capote grew up together and their writing styles are similar because it springs from the tradition of oral speaking in the South. 
  • Traverse City Book Store Offers Refunds:  Peter Makin decided to offer his customers refunds because GSAW was not what had been promised to his readers. He felt that by selling this book he was deceiving his customers. Makin feels that GSAW is an early rough draft, an unedited manuscript, or even a template rather than another novel, which was promoted as a companion to Mockingbird.

To hear the entire conversation, please click the above audio link.

Image credit: Gwydion M. Williams

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