Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’: What the Critics are Saying

15 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mockingbird’ actress hopes ‘Watchman’ will become classroom classic.

The actress who brought Scout Finch to life in an Oscar-winning movie more than 50 years ago hopes Harper Lee’s controversial new novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” will become a staple in literature classes, just as its beloved predecessor did. Atticus, as you surely know, is the heroic father in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” – the lawyer who defies his Alabama town and defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.On the afternoon of Monday, February 2, Jason Arthur, a publisher who has worked with everyone from Martin Amis to James Ellroy, was called into his boss’s office and let in on a secret that would become the publishing story of the decade.Local book lovers flocked to Sacramento stores Tuesday to purchase Harper Lee’s newly released novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” lining up early outside Barnes and Noble and collecting copies they ordered months ago at the Avid Reader. “People were rushing in, saying they wanted a first edition copy,” said Pam Rasmussen, store manager of the Barnes and Noble at Arden Fair. “Everything today is first edition.” Ann Hamilton, an assistant at Avid Reader in Sacramento, said there has been high demand for the book and that the store had received 30 pre-orders months in advance.

Mary Badham, who was 10 when she played Scout in the 1962 movie adaptation of Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” told a packed audience at a Manhattan reading on Tuesday that she thinks readers will learn a lot from the new book. The 278 page book can’t quite stretch its central theme, colloquially identifiable as “daddy issues,” far enough to hide its lack of structure or drive. The novel that was the source material for the movie is a classic of science fiction, and the prospect of seeing its innovative battle sequences on screen was tremendously exciting. She then recited the words she often asks students to repeat back to her when she visits schools: “Ignorance is the root of all evil, and education is the key to freedom.” Written before “Mockingbird,” “Watchman” is set 20 years later, in the 1950s.

Told in a faltering third person voice that occasionally swerves into first, the novel fails on the level of character development, plot, and in some instances, language itself. He said he paid a visit to Lee, who has failing eyesight and vision, on Monday evening as hundreds of townsfolk lined up to buy the book at midnight. “She loves the spectacle of this, everyone in town. But in the years since “Ender’s Game” was originally published, author Orson Scott Card had become famous for something else: his vociferous opposition to gay rights.

While Atticus Finch’s character has changed – reviews say that he exhibits racist tendencies in “Watchman” despite his long-held place in American culture as a civil rights hero – readers are looking forward to the recently unearthed text. It depicts lawyer Atticus Finch, seen as a symbol of tolerance in the face of Southern racism in “Mockingbird”, as a bigot who opposes desegregation and has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting. “I think it’s so timely for right now. ‘Mockingbird’ came at a perfect time for our country.

The last righteous man in the Sodom of Alabama bigotry turns out to be just another citizen of Sodom. “Mockingbird” has been a staple of American high school literature classes. The idea of giving him money –whether through ticket sales that he might possibly get a small portion of, or by boosting the profile of a movie in a way that might increase book sales — that he might use to fight marriage equality was distasteful to a lot of my readers. (I was then writing at the progressive news site ThinkProgress.) What was a science fiction devotee to do? It allowed us the ability to discuss subjects rationally and intelligently without getting way up here,” said Badham, 62, motioning above her head. “And now that things are way up here with our country, I think this will help a lot.” The novel, published on Tuesday, went on sale a month after a gunman, identified by authorities as a 21-year-old white man, killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

I wrote a series of recommendations, but the one that really seemed to resonate with readers was a proposal for a kind of financial offset, like the carbon offsets some people buy when they take airplane flights: “As a ballpark,” I wrote. “I’d suggest twice the price of your ticket purchase to Freedom to Marry, an exceedingly canny organization that does all sorts of wonderful marriage equality work.” Carbon offsets have dubious efficacy. She said she thinks race is portrayed differently in the media and that Lee’s book may be a more accurate reflection of race issues at the time the book was written. “It sparks even more interest in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ” she said. “People are saying, ‘Gosh, I haven’t read that since high school.’ ” The shooting set off an impassioned national debate over modern use of the Confederate battle flag, which has historically been associated with slavery. She finds that the place has changed in her absence, and at 26 years old, spoiler alert, she sees her father, a 76-year-old lawyer, as a flawed human being for the first time.

The novel has very little in the way of arc — it takes place over two days of one summer, and the main character, Jean Louise, is haphazardly rendered. Lee’s status as a legend of American letters was only enhanced by her retreat from the public eye and her decision not to publish another written word. That this book should suddenly emerge now, just months after the death of her beloved older sister, Alice, who had acted as her lawyer and gatekeeper, struck many as fishy.

Atticus has lived his life serving the county’s legislature, and is depicted as a somewhat stern man whose emotional reserve is the product of a cool intelligence. Jean-Louise is, by contrast, hot-headed and dreamy in equal measure — she is bullishly progressive by the standards of her time, feeling uncomfortable about the expectation that she perform stereotypical gender roles; her aunt is constantly remarking on her unfeminine wardrobe, and during a coffee ceremony, where her aunt invites most of the ladies in the next town over to receive Jean-Louise while she’s at home, she feels trapped and alone in her inability to behave according to some custom of femininity: “She glanced down the long, low-ceilinged livingroom at the double row of women, women she had merely known all her life, and she could not talk to them five minutes without drying up stone dead. This story is of the toppling of idols; its major theme is disillusion.” In New York, stacks of Watchman greeted book buyers at the Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Avenue. “It sort of feels like a historic literary moment,” said Addy Baird, 19, who left work to trek to the store in the rain. A number of readers wrote in to flag Caring Across Generations, which has a range of advocacy efforts centered on caregiving, including access to home care and the relationships between caregivers and their clients.

Gerontologist Sherry Lind pointed me to the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy‘s listing of legal assistance hotlines for senior citizens — supporting their mission might be a perfect offset if you’re particularly concerned about the possibility that lawyers might mistreat their elderly clients. Even more unfortunately, the drama of Jean-Louise’s self-individuation from her father, Atticus, happens over a set piece involving how a group of white people contend with the matter of race in a small, fictional town in 1950s Alabama. David L Ulin of the Los Angeles Times called it “an apprentice effort [that] falls apart in the second half.” Julia Teller at the Chicago Tribune said it was “almost unbearably clunky” in parts.

Reeling from his discovery of the existence of Watchman, then the jolt of meeting the appalling new version of Atticus Finch, Arthur spoke to colleagues working on the publication in the US as well as Lee’s British agent Andrew Nurnberg. “I had it on their authority that this was genuine, that she wanted the book published and it was a gift to the world, but there is always that little itch that says: can I quite believe this? National Public Radio’s Maureen Corrigan called it “a troubling confusion of a novel, politically and artistically.” The book is “kind of a mess that will forever change the way we read a masterpiece,” Corrigan said. And my friend Harold Pollack, who studies the relationship between poverty and public health policies, directed me toward the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, based out of Georgia Southwestern State University, for anyone who might be particularly interested in donating to an organization based in Harper Lee’s region. Even though people you trust are telling you that this is true.” In April he travelled with his doubt to Monroeville and became one of the few people to be allowed to enter Lee’s private world and discuss her work with her. “I was very keen to go over and sit with Nelle (her first name, used by intimates) and discuss our publication plans.

While criticising parts of the book, Teller said Watchman was memorable for its “sophisticated and even prescient view of the long march for racial justice.” It was too early on Tuesday to measure any possible fallout on sales. There is one story that goes like this: In February, Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney, happened upon the manuscript amidst some other papers (which are themselves already subject to speculation that they may yet herald a third Lee novel). Publishers Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, has ordered an initial US print run of two million and Watchman has been the best-selling book on Amazon.com in pre-orders for more than a week. The stories meet, after a fashion, when you consider what changed in Lee’s life between 2011 and February, 2015, when HarperCollins announced its plan to publish Harper Lee’s “lost” novel.

She was reciting the play as it went along.” The next day they talked at her assisted-living facility. “Her room is full of books, piles of them on every surface. In November of 2014, Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, whose facility with the law positioned her to become an ideal executor of Lee’s estate, and whose love of her sister protected the famously reclusive author from being taken advantage of, or really pestered in any way, died. She does have macular degeneration, so she does have a machine that helps her read documents and books, but if she is not understanding what you are asking her you can write down a question and she can quite easily read it and respond. Her mind is as sharp as I am sure it has ever been.” They talked about a summer she had spent studying in Oxford after she gave up her law studies and about CS Lewis, whom she knew and whose work she loved. When John Masefield, a friend of Lewis’s, came up in conversation, Lee recited two stanzas of his poem Sea Fever. “Nelle was very clear that she didn’t want to make substantial changes to the script,” Arthur says.

There are some passages that are duplicated verbatim across the texts, including (a personal favourite of mine) an anecdote that illustrates the long and muddled history of two of Maycomb’s families, the Cunninghams and Conninghams, the distinction between which, the narrators of both books tell us, has become “academic” at some point along the way. Atticus Finch, the character who has meant so much to Lawyers and legal professionals over the years — and the creation of whom even earned Lee an award specifically for such a flattering depiction of a lawyer — is not quite the same man we first met in Mockingbird. Was it because he’s a goodhearted trickster? ‘No,’ she said. ‘It’s because he has very big ears.’ As we left Nelle shouted: ‘You all take care. I love every one of you’.” A few weeks ago Lee attended a lunch with some of those involved in the publication, including Arthur, at a restaurant in Monroeville owned by Tonja Carter. “We had a gumbo starter, followed by chicken and fish courses.

The fact of his innocence is plain to everyone in the courtroom, but in 1930s Alabama, a white jury finds itself, for reasons young Jean-Louise, or Scout as she’s called, can’t understand, unable to acquit him. But they were also a rewriting of Israel’s past in the light of sequels: the hubris that followed the Six-Day War, the permanent occupation, the war of choice in Lebanon in 1982. Nelle drank iced tea.” If Lee is so happy about the publication, why has it taken six decades to appear? “That’s a big question and, you know, I do believe the story that this manuscript just went missing,” says Arthur.

As a prelude to all that, the first chapter of Israeli history became a story of pushing Arabs off their land in what became the territory of the new state or of keeping those who fled from returning. But Lee was taken aback by the success of her debut and the angry response of Monroeville (Maycomb) residents. “Her father and sister had a really tough time of it. I do my best to love everybody.” He soothes his son, Jem, by explaining the jury pool in Maycomb county is mostly made up of poor, uneducated white people, and that he hopes one day that wont be the case. It was put away for safekeeping goodness knows how many years ago, then just forgotten about.” Carter, Lee’s lawyer and a protege of Alice Lee, who died last year, recalled in an article in The Wall Street Journal that she found the manuscript in a safe-deposit box late last summer and that when she told Lee the author replied, “God bless Alice,” apparently praising her late sister for keeping the manuscript safe. He compares adult black people to children, citing the fact that for the post part they are uneducated, and tries to make his daughter, and the reader, understand why he wouldn’t want black lawyers and black jurors to become part of the county’s legal proceedings.

If we had made other choices – if, for instance, we had seized very real opportunities for peace after 1967 – our earlier history would read differently. I hope she won’t mind me saying this, but she is, at the end of the day, a small-town lawyer who has found herself on this global stage and has found it quite difficult to deal with the attention.

We can alter the meaning of the 48 years since 1967 – if they become the prelude to full equality within the Green Line and an end to occupation beyond it. There’s a lightness to her troubles, and even during the book’s moral highpoint, where her fiancé is attempting to illustrate for her the privileges she’s been given on account of her family’s last name, and the social positioning “Finch” connotes, the insight falls flat.

But it’s moments like these where you can see what an ambitious young writer was trying to do; Watchman very well could’ve been a great book in its own right, if it were given the care it needed to become one. Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The Unmaking of Israel” and “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977.” Follow him on Twitter: @GershomG.

Do you want them in our world?” “One felt like the rug was being pulled from under oneself,” says Arthur, “but I have lived with this novel for four months and the more I think about it I don’t see a massive discrepancy between this and the portrayal of Atticus in Mockingbird. Scout herself is upset at what she sees as an attack on states’ rights, but appalled by her father. “The shock and dismay that Scout feels in confronting her father as readers we all feel too because we feel the same way about Atticus as his daughter does.” Mockingbird, says Arthur, is a book of moral certainties that “are nowhere near as nuanced as the depictions of the realities of race relations in the American South in Watchman”.

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Finding the ‘Joy’ in Jennifer Lawrence

20 Jan 2016 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Joy’ review: Jennifer Lawrence cleans up in enjoyable biopic.

Writer-director David O. Their latest collaboration — following in the footsteps of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle — is a biographical picture about the life and times of Joy Mangano.Jennifer Lawrence groans when she’s asked about singing the classic Nancy and Frank Sinatra duet Something Stupid with co-star Edgar Ramirez in her new film Joy. “David [O Russell, the movie’s director] texted me last night to ask if he could put it on the soundtrack and this is what I texted him back,” the actor says as she digs around for her mobile phone and reads out her response verbatim. “‘David, no!!!’ and it is three exclamation marks.In a very abbreviated nutshell, that actually happened to Joy Mangano, 59, the fabulously successful Long Island entrepreneur/inventor and HSN pitchwoman whose rags-to-riches journey started with the invention of a mop.

Russell has made three kinds of movies: offbeat romances (“Flirting With Disaster”), surreal comedies (“I Heart Huckabees”) and dramas about dysfunctional yet appealing families (“The Fighter”). In real life, Mangano is the Long Island housewife and inventor who became famous and eventually rich after bouts of near-bankruptcy, by creating and marketing her Miracle Mop. Out Boxing Day in Australia, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence in the fictionalised life story of Joy Mangano, a single mum from Long Island who made her fortune selling a mop. On Christmas Day, “Joy,” a movie inspired by her struggles as a divorced, single mother turned mogul by way of that mop, will open at movie theaters across America.

This was before she hooked up with the giant Home Shopping Network, becoming their most effective pitch person and eventually selling her parent company, Ingenious Designs, to HSN. Gross, I can’t listen to it; I have to go to bed.’ And I said yes, but it’s a groaning, reluctant yes.” It’s the kind of unfiltered moment you come to expect when interviewing Lawrence, who may now be one of the most famous actors on the planet but still blurts out whatever she’s thinking with such self-deprecating charm it’s impossible not to be, well, charmed.

Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Miracle Mop inventor and QVC pitchwoman Joy Mangano glues the movie together, but it threatens to unravel at any time. Lawrence, 25, looks genuinely surprised when complimented about how unchanged she seems from our earlier interviews before the fame and Oscars. “But there would be no reason to change,” she says with a shrug. “I just have a job and I love my job. In the film, Lawrence’s Mangano is a colourful character, a single mom with a unique relationship and friendship with her ex-husband, and an enterprising woman who parlays her creativity into an incredibly successful business.

Mom (Virginia Madsen) stays in her bedroom and watches soap operas, until she falls for a Haitian plumber (Jimmy Jean-Louis) who fixes a hole in her bedroom floor. She landed minor roles on TV shows such as Monk, Cold Case and Medium before her 2010 indie film Winter’s Bone led to her becoming the second youngest best actress Oscar nominee in history. This is true even when the film tilts off its rocker with a bit of Russell-esque madness built into the screenplay, and with the director failing to always keep the energy going. That resulted in not only a string of critically acclaimed films, an Academy Award and another Oscar nomination, but also her very own mega-franchise as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Joy’s grandma (endearing Diane Ladd) delivers messages of empowerment and smooths over constant fights, but she’s opposed by the money-grubbing rich woman (Isabella Rossellini) who dates Joy’s dad and sends negative messages about her. Lawrence’s endearing habit of speaking her mind resulted in a controversial essay she penned on Lena Dunham’s website about her discovery during the Sony hacks that she was being paid less “than the lucky people with dicks” on her recent films, including American Hustle. “I completely understand when people say actors shouldn’t talk about politics and things they don’t know about, but this was my gender at stake and it was being threatened with unfairness and I thought, ‘What is the point of having this voice if it’s not to speak out for myself and for everyone else who can’t?’,” she says unapologetically.

Upon learning that Lawrence would be playing her mom, Miranne says, “I braced myself so I wouldn’t fall on the floor.” As for Mangano, she says Lawrence playing her “made me feel old, number one. Lawrence hangs out with a posse of celebrity girlfriends, including Amy Schumer and singer Adele, but the reason is simple. “The friendship gets expedited a lot when you meet someone you know beyond a shadow of a doubt has no agenda,” she says. Draining her savings and taking out loans, she started off small, selling her mops to local boat owners. “She persuaded QVC to take a thousand, but sales were poor and they tried to send them back,” says Mason. “She suggested letting her demonstrate it herself, and the channel agreed.” Sales skyrocketed and Mangano’s career as a QVC pitch woman was launched. That’s so amazing there aren’t even words.” Mangano and her three children didn’t view “Joy” until the Dec. 13 premiere in Manhattan, though a family outing to see “Trainwreck” included a trailer.

This is, after all, the self-confessed reality-show junkie who confessed in a recent Vogue interview that on the night of her 25th birthday party, friends surprised her with a visit from reality queen Kris Jenner, who presented her with a cake inscribed, ‘Happy Birthday, you piece of shit!’ The only time she seems tongue-tied is when asked about her relationship status, after a four-year stint with X-Men: First Class co-star Nicholas Hoult and a year with Coldplay singer Chris Martin before their breakup earlier this year. “Next!” Lawrence says in a no-nonsense voice, pausing as she decides if she’ll continue that thought. For one thing, Mangano’s childhood is not that interesting for a film, despite some flashbacks to her as a youngster (when she is played by 10-year-old Isabella Cramp, who does actually look like we imagine Lawrence could have at the same age). A satire on the acquisitiveness of the public? (Here, QVC foists unnecessary things on gullible viewers who could better save their money.) Russell doesn’t seem to know. And, of course, the grave ending would be a lie: Mangano is very much alive at the age of 59, still inventing, still pitching products, still a superstar of the American home shopping universe. There’s the Clothes It All luggage system, essentially a rolling suitcase with a removable garment bag, and the Super Chic vacuum, which releases fragrance into the air.

If I even casually say something to a reporter, that quote haunts me for the rest of my life,” she says, “so I am never, ever, ever talking about boys again!” I don’t think any of us brought enough tissues!” A good portion of the film was shot last winter in Boston, and though the always-busy Mangano was twice scheduled to visit the set, snowstorms made travel impossible. He has mixed genres successfully before, as in the anti-war comedy-drama “Three Kings,” but the blender often grinds to a halt in “Joy.” Just as we’re getting used to the realism of Mangano’s fight for respect, Russell photographs Rossellini as if she were a gargoyle.

One of her creations, the thin and velvet-covered Huggable Hanger, remains a bestseller for HSN, at more than 300 million sold, and was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. Yet in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cooper, De Niro and Russell all supported her with fine work; here they lay back and make the movie a one-ring circus where she has to be acrobat, bareback rider and clown.

He had a presence all of his own.” At one point, Miranne says, “Jennifer grabbed Joy’s hand and said to David, ‘Look at the nails, a French manicure.’ ” (That manicure is a Mangano signature.) Lawrence revealed that in studying for her part as Joy, she watched recordings of the inventor’s early pitches on HSN, including ones for “Huggable Hangers” and found her so compelling that she wanted to buy them on the spot. There is something special when creative people get together.” Mangano’s take on Lawrence? “She’s beyond her years, so brilliant, hysterical and so talented.

Critically, Russell’s sense of wonder and beauty turns elegiac moments — especially when Joy Mangano becomes fully realized as a woman and as a business executive — into scenes of great beauty. Lawrence recently said on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” that the movie was “half Joy Mangano’s story and half [Russell’s] imagination and other powerful, strong women who inspired him.” The director mined much of his Mangano material by phone.

The cast includes Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Susan Lucci (in a mock TV soap opera that gives Joy some of its silliness) and even Melissa Rivers as her late mother Joan Rivers. There’s no situation Joy cannot overcome or circumvent.” At a Newsday photo shoot at Mangano’s luxurious but serene 42,000-square-foot mansion on 11 acres in St. As for parting advice for the ambitious? “If this movie inspires even just one more person to believe in themselves and to go after their dreams, then it’s made a very special impact in this world.

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