Truth sometimes hurts, like a cinder block dropped on your head. But, sometimes it's needed. So here's the flat of it my friends--this book should never, NEVER, have been published. I'm not talking about changing the storyline, or the new and unimproved racist Atticus. I'm talking about trampling the wishes of an 89 year old woman.
Yes, this book is from Harper Lee and that's head turning for sure. And it's cool for fans and a windfall for booksellers. YAY, you! And for Harper Collins (no relation) it's like flying a fleet of B-52s over their NYC office and carpet bombing them with gold bullion.
But *rubbing forehead* that doesn't make it right.
Here's what we know:
- Up until she was 88, Harper Lee never wanted to publish another book. And fans BEGGED her for more. Publishers threw mountains of money at her. But she still said, no thanks. Her sister, Alice, was her attorney and gatekeeper, and in Lee's nursing home years, she saw that those wishes were honored.
- In 2011, Lee's agent Sam Pinkus, a representative from Sotheby's, Justin Caldwell, and an attorney, Tonja Carter, visited Lee's safe deposit box and discovered a rejected manuscript called GO SET A WATCHMAN. That book would later be rewritten and renamed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
(Side-bar: All authors have early trunk novels. We can't part with these books because we've invested so much time in them, but NO AUTHOR IN HIS OR HER RIGHT MIND WANTS THIS STUFF PUBLISHED. Leesha, if you're reading this, if I should fall off a cliff and die, please give that early manuscript a nice Viking funeral. Thanks!)
- January 2012, Tonja Carter becomes durable power of attorney for Harper Lee.
- Jump to 2014, three months before Lee's sister Alice dies, Tonja Carter "discovers" this manuscript. Harper Collins rocks the world by announcing they will publish this long lost book about an older Scout, insinuating that this is some kind of sequel. They know it's not, but hey, marketing.
- Three days ago Tonja Carter seeks to clear the air by saying she was not really there in 2011 and truly discovered this book last year.
- One day ago, Sam Pinkus and Sotheby's both say she was there in 2011. Also, say "Liar, liar, pants on fire." I may be misquoting, but you get the gist.
- Today GO SET A WATCHMAN is released. Sales of the initial 2 million copy print run are projected to generate $40 million. The profits will go into a foundation run by (insert ominous Darth Vader music) Tonja Carter.
If you watch the PBS special by Mary McDonagh Murphy, we see a very old Harper Lee being presented with her "new" book. Curiously, they only show stills, not actual video. We also hear audio of Ms. Lee being asked, "Did you ever think you would see this published?" She answers, "Of course I did, don't be silly."
In a recent interview on CNN, Mary McDonagh Murphy was asked, "Did you believe her?" Murphy couldn't really answer that question. And neither can the rest of us. We can only go by what Ms. Lee desired until she was 88, until her sister died, until a new attorney thought otherwise.
GO SET A WATCHMAN is a priceless artifact. It's an amazing study in how an early, rejected draft can become a timeless classic. But I can't bring myself to read it. Sometimes when you pass a train wreck, you should just look away.