I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this book as narrated by Reese Witherspoon. Going into the experience, I was fully prepared to be disappointed in the book, simply given the circumstances of its inception: draft pulled from the dust, Harper Lee not fully able to attend to a final draft, heaps of worldwide expectation. We haven't seen an artistic debut like this since that Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane Carnegie Hall recording was unearthed a few years ago.
I am pleased to report that aside from all the hype, I liked the book. It certainly upset and angered me in several ways, as I'm certain was the reaction of most readers, but this had nothing to do with the quality of the writing. In fact, structurally, I thought it was one of the better novels I've read this year.
Getting angry at the book's content seems a pointless exercise, as it was written over 50 years ago and published by someone who is no longer in full control of her awareness. Nevertheless, I had to smile at the notion of Lee bestowing the moniker of "color blind" on Jean Louise Finch; perhaps by 1950's standards she was some sort of rare dissenter, as I guess it was unthinkable for ANY white southerner to condone the perversion of interracial marriage. Yes, it is sadly obvious to the modern reader how much racial bias exists within her perceptions. What I like about this book is the way that its story punctures the sublimity of To Kill a Mockingbird, which white readers have sanctified over the years as holy writ and thrust in front of school children as an undeniable sign of America's racial progress. If one must teach the book, I think it would be best to do so coupled with Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, in order to avoid the soporific effects of fictional happy endings.
Reese Witherspoon, by the way, gets a B in her narration. She fails at first to find Jean Louise's voice, and for a while, we skim only along the surface of the story. However when our protagonist gives over to feelings of betrayal and indignation, Witherspoon catches the mood and tone much better, and the second half comes off quite well. I kept wishing early on for Sissy Spacek or Susan Sarandon, but realized eventually that Jean Louise's naivete called for a younger voice.