The news that Monroeville, Alabama author Harper Lee will publish a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird” this summer elicited a mix of astonishment, delight and doubt.
The book is called “Go Set a Watchman” and, according to publisher HarperCollins, it’s from a manuscript that Lee, 88, lost many years ago. Its sudden re-appearance has some observers scratching their heads.
How does one of America’s greatest living authors write a book, lose it, and find it again 60 years later? Why is it that Lee’s longtime editor still hadn’t read the book as of Tuesday?
These are questions that one might ask Lee, but she hasn’t given an interview since 1964. Lately even her editor has had a hard time contacting her.
According to this interview in Vulture.com, Hugh Van Dusen, her editor since 2007, didn’t know about the book until Monday, and still hadn’t read it Tuesday. He also suggested that no one at HarperCollins had contacted Lee directly, but that the publisher has worked through Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter.
Questions about the timing of the new book surfaced almost immediately after the HarperCollins announcement Tuesday.
“Be suspicious of the new Harper Lee novel” said this article in Jezebel.com. The story points out that Lee, who had a stroke in 2007, has lost much of her eyesight and hearing. She lives in an assisted care facility and gets about on a wheelchair. The vulnerable writer might not have approved of the deal, suggests writer Madeleine Davies.
Up until last year the author was protected by sister Alice Lee, her lawyer, confidante and advocate. Alice died three months ago at age 103, leaving Harper’s representation to Alice’s younger law partner, Tonja Carter.
HarperCollins issued a press release saying that Carter negotiated the deal for the new book. “Go Set a Watchman” looks at the relationship between an adult Scout and her father Atticus Finch, and the racial politics of a small town in Alabama during the 1950s.
According to the press release, Lee wrote “Watchman” first. An editor suggested that she focus on the childhood memories of Scout, so she put “Watchman” aside and wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” set 20 years earlier. “Mockingbird” went on to sell 40 million copies and is recognized as one of the greatest novels in American literature.
The greatest mystery in American literature was Lee’s silence after “Mockingbird.” How could she write a book that good and never write another?
Suspicious minds offered the theory that she might have received help from her childhood friend and next door neighbor Truman Capote, who is portrayed in the book (some say) as the pint-sized intellectual, Dill.
Lee has denied Capote’s participation, and described him as a “psychopath” in “The Mockingbird Next Door,” a portrait of the Lee sisters written by former Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills.
The HarperCollins release says that Carter discovered the new manuscript “in a secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird'”.
It quotes Lee as saying she was “delighted” that Carter discovered it. “After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication,” she is quoted as saying. “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”
Mallory Ortberg, writing here in The-Toast.net, casts doubt on the veracity of the press release.