The most hotly anticipated book of the summer is “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s follow-up to her 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and became an instant classic. “Watchman,” which takes place in the 1950s, 20 years after the events of “Mockingbird,” isn’t out until Tuesday, but the first chapter was released today, giving us all a first taste of what we can expect. Here are some of the highlights:
- Jean Louise Finch, “Scout” to her fans, is heading home to Maycomb from New York, where she now lives. (We always knew she was a New Yorker at heart! Happy to have you, Scout.) “Tired of New York?” asks her lifelong friend Henry Clinton, whom we’ve never met before, when he picks her up at the station. “No.”
- Henry wants to marry Scout — and wastes no time getting to his point. “Although she still moved like a 13-year old boy and abjured most feminine adornment, he found something so intensely feminine about her that he fell in love . . . She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him. He would protect her; he would marry her.”
- Her brother Jem is dead, a shocking revelation that is dealt with in one line: “Just about that time, Jean Louise’s brother dropped dead in his tracks” — at which point her father, lawyer Atticus Finch, eventually takes on Henry as a sort of surrogate son and apprentice.
- Atticus now has severe rheumatoid arthritis, needs help to get dressed in the morning and, according to Henry, “can’t even hold a razor.” We can’t deal with Jem’s death or with Atticus getting older, so let’s get back to something less devastating: potential romance between Scout and Henry.
- So will there be wedding bells for Scout? Not if she has anything to say about it. She was an independent little kid and she’s grown up into a delightfully independent young woman, eschewing marriage, for now, with statements like, “I want to be like Dr. Schweitzer and play until I’m 30.” For she’s almost — but not quite — in love with Henry, a state which she recognizes would lead to an unhappy marriage and extramarital affairs. “After a few years, when the children were waist-high, the man would come along whom she should have married in the first place. There would be searchings of hearts, fevers and frets, long looks at each other on the post office steps, and misery for everybody . . . No. For the present she would pursue the stony path of spinsterhood.”