When I was a child, two of the most influential people in my life were my grandparents. I loved them with every fiber of my being. They were a stable rock in my unsteady and turbulent adolescent life. They provided me with the idea of the kind, loving Christian home I wanted for myself. One might even say I idolized them a bit.
My grandma died ten years ago, and in the three weeks before her death, I found out a family truth that shattered my belief in my grandpa. It is not mine to tell, so I will not share it here. But it is a painful, horrendous thing to lose two people you love in the same stroke. Though my grandpa would go on to live for eight more years, he died in my heart, and I was not able to resurrect him, even though I could (eventually) forgive him.
I bring this personal family story up, because it mirrors a similar reckoning process in Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman. A LOT of people have been distressed over the dark side Lee has revealed to her much-beloved character, Atticus Finch. But the story is realistic and necessary to understanding the complexity of growing up and developing our own interior moral codes.
I won’t spoil the story by giving anything away, but Lee’s portrayal of a young adult Jean Louise Finch and the incredible pain she experiences when she has to deal with her tin-god vision of Atticus and the real man who exists in her life is powerful and poignant. It is, I imagine, an incredibly similar process you may go through when you read this book, especially if you idolized Atticus Finch. But the frankness with which Lee approaches this narrative is important, for it brings up the complexities of racism in a different way than is depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird. I wrote on someone’s Facebook page, “This is not the novel we wanted, but I believe this is the novel we need.” While the writing lacks some of the fluidity of TKAM, it is still a worthy read, and one to which I will return in the years to come.