It’s no great secret that I’m a fan of the wonderful, talented, awesome Harper Lee. I named my cat after her. If I could go back and change my roller derby name, I would be Tequila Mockingbird. I’ve said that To Kill a Mockingbird is just one of those books that every human being ought to read.
And yet, I was definitively not excited when I heard news that Harper Lee would be publishing her second novel this upcoming summer. Apparently, Ms. Lee just recently “re-discovered” the manuscript for Go Set a Watchmen, which she actually wrote before TKAM. And now they’re publishing it.
This should make me over-the-moon excited. I am not. Instead, I’m suspicious, and this Jezebel piece perfectly sums up why:
Sadly, this news is not without controversy or complications. Harper Lee’s sister Alice Lee, who ferociously protected Harper Lee’s estate (and person) from unwanted outside attention as a lawyer and advocate for decades, passed away late last year, leaving the intensely private author (who herself is reportedly in ill health) vulnerable to people who may not have her best interests at heart.
I can’t remember where it was, but a few months ago, I read a piece on Harper Lee and her lifelong struggle for privacy, as well as her embattled relations with the public. Because of some shifty maneuvering by publishers in the ’60’s, Harper Lee signed away the copyright to TKAM, and has been pretty much left out in the cold, financially, since the book became one of the greatest books in American literature. For that and other reasons, Lee is very private, some might even call her reclusive. In an interview with Oprah, she once said that people always assume that she identifies with Scout. Instead, she says she’s more like Boo Radley.
Unfortunately, Lee has also been struggling with health problems in recent years, problems that have been described as being simply “forgetful,” to being close to senile (and that’s not a slam, the woman is 88 years old). According to the Jezebel piece, and I remember this from the other story I read on this subject, Lee has been known to sign “whatever’s put in front of her,” sometimes according to the advice of her lawyer, Tonja Carter. This Carter became Lee’s lawyer after her former lawyer – Lee’s sister, and who Lee calls a “real life Atticus,” Alice Lee – retired at 100.
Alice Lee died a few months ago. There’s been a lot of attention drawn to Harper Lee since the unauthorized biography of Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door, was published last year. You’re telling me that there’s nothing suspicious in all this? Hmm. Even the friend and previous biographer of Lee interviewed for this NPR piece, Charles Shield, – who states that Lee is still “sound of mind” – said he was surprised Go Set a Watchmen emerged so soon after Alice died.
I don’t know, guys. I hate to be a negative Nancy, but I’m joining the camp of those who are worried Harper Lee is being taken advantage of in her old age. And so, while a new Harper Lee novel is exciting, that excitement will turn really bitter, really fast, if indications of foul play emerge from this situation.
And let me tell you: I love this writer so very much. If she’s been taken advantage of, I’m going to be pissed.
Also, check out:
- Harper Lee: The Sadness of a Sequel, at The Atlantic
- Questions I Have About the Harper Lee Interview, at The Toast