The announcement earlier this week that Harper Lee will publish a newly discovered manuscript called “Go Set a Watchman” — written before “To Kill a Mockingbird” — has stirred up a storm of speculation about how much the 88-year-old author is involved in this decision.
On Thursday, Lee issued a second statement through her publisher saying that she is “alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions of Watchman.”
Naturally, that has not quelled the chatter, which is being fueled by the fact that Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, lives in an assisted-living facility in Alabama and issues statements only through her lawyer, Tonja Carter, and her foreign-rights agent, Andrew Nurnberg.
Even as the literary world tries to adjust to the idea of a second novel from the intensely private Lee, Nurnberg claims that Lee and her agent in the 1950s once considered a trilogy. He’s quoted in the Guardian saying, “They discussed publishing Mockingbird first, Watchman last, and a shorter connecting novel between the two. It would appear she never wrote or finished the middle novel, but it is clear that Lippincott was planning on publishing Watchman.”
Desperate for any independent information about Lee, reporters have sought out neighbors, the nursing home staff and even a restaurant owner in Monroeville, Ala.
AL.com has posted a story that begins, “Multiple residents of Monroeville who have known Harper Lee for years said Wednesday that they believe the 88-year-old author does not possess sufficient mental faculties to make informed decisions about her literary career.”
The Guardian paints an ominous picture of a claustrophobic town in which Lee is kept tightly guarded by her lawyer, Carter, a woman about whom “very little is known.” (The Wall Street Journal offers some details.)
Writing in Slate, Katy Waldman says, “The circumstances around the release of this novel are so sketchy, the rollout so tinny with false coincidence, that what HarperCollins needs to do is clear: Withdraw ‘Watchman.’ Don’t publish the book at all.”
Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields has expressed concerns about how much the author is involved with the decision to publish “Go Set a Watchman.” But Mary McDonough Murphy, who wrote “Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird,” said Wednesday on MPR, “I don’t question the validity of the plan to publish this” new novel.
Jessa Crispin, the editor of Bookslut, is skeptical for reasons that have nothing to do with the legal arrangements. In a New York Times essay titled “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee,” she warns, “There is a very good chance that this work, rejected by Ms. Lee’s original editor in the ’50s, may be substandard.”
Of course, all of these speculations and concerns have only increased interest in the forthcoming novel. HarperCollins has announced plans to publish 2 million copies of “Go Set a Watchman” on July 14. The book is already No. 1 on the Amazon bestseller list.