EXPeriencing the Roller Coaster of Emotions for Go Set a Watchman

Cover image via the New York Daily News. It looks like it’s probably a temporary cover, but I’m digging in.

Most of the time I find out about breaking news on Twitter, especially when it’s of the literary sort. Not on Tuesday. On Tuesday, February 3, my best friend texted me a link to an article with the following URL: “www.themarysue.com/oh-my-god-harper-lee.”

“Oh my god Harper Lee” what?? Then I saw the title of the article (“Harper Lee’s Second Novel Will Be Published in July, Is a To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel”) and had just two words to say:

Holy. Shit.

What former English major hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird at least three times, watched the movie at least 10 times, and wondered what another novel from Harper Lee would be like? We will no longer have to wonder come this July when Go Set a Watchman is released. Written before MockingbirdWatchman features Scout as an adult and Atticus as an old man. “It is a compelling and ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter’s relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the racial tensions of the 1950s” (The Washington Post).

Not long after my friend texted me, my coworker–also a former English major–said, “Did you hear Harper Lee is releasing a second novel?” I said yes. She said, “I already pre-ordered it on Amazon. The article I read said their initial print run was only going to be two million copies.” So I said, “I think I might go preorder it now.” Her response: “Do it.”

I did.

Later that day, I was checking Twitter, and amongst the overjoyed and excited tweets about Go Set a Watchman, someone tweeted that the news was “troubling” and shared a link to an old Vulture/Slate article about “The Decline of Harper Lee.” I read part of the article and was immediately thrown into misgivings myself. Was Lee pressured into releasing Watchman? Does she understand what’s happening? Should I not want to read this book?

I tempered my excitement and tried to let the anticipation die down a little inside me. I felt guilty for being excited because maybe Lee doesn’t want this book to come out and I’m contributing to an old woman’s exploitation by ordering the book.

Then, a couple days ago, I read a new article. This one from The New York Times. This article, “After Harper Lee Novel Surfaces, Plots Arise,” features a more in-depth interview with the attorney who found the manuscript, as well as more reactions from Lee’s friends. The passage that struck me most was:

What should have been a triumphant literary discovery — a find that could significantly add to the legacy of one of the country’s most cherished authors — quickly morphed into a puzzling controversy. While there have often been debates about works that were discovered and published posthumously, including unfinished novels by masters like Vladimir Nabokov and David Foster Wallace, it is rare for a living writer’s literary intentions to be cloaked in so much uncertainty.

Residents of Monroeville gossip that Ms. Lee is mentally infirm these days, does not recognize old friends, could not possibly have signed off on the publication, never wanted to do a second book. But those who are closest to her scoff at such conspiratorial theories, saying Harper Lee, now 88 and admittedly frail, remains fully capable of making up her own mind.

They’re right. We shouldn’t be gossiping about Lee’s health and wondering if she was pressured or cajoled into publishing this book. We should be celebrating its discovery. This will bring her much attention in the coming year, which she probably doesn’t necessarily want as she’s somewhat reclusive. But on some level, she is welcoming it by allowing the book to be published. She could have said no, and I believe her lawyer, friends, and publisher would have respected that. It would have been published immediately after her death anyway, no doubt. But this way, she is able to be celebrated in her lifetime with another literary accomplishment that will no doubt be a wonderful read, if not an American literary masterpiece.

Now, I don’t know Harper Lee, so this could just be me making myself feel better about how excited I am for Watchman, but after reading Lee’s attorney/friend Tonja B. Carter’s more detailed interview, I am confident in my excitement:

Answering questions on Saturday through both emails and text messages, Ms. Carter said that Ms. Lee is “extremely hurt and humiliated” at the suggestion that she had been duped.

“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Ms. Carter said. “Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”

Again, I don’t know Lee, but many of the people speculating that she’s been duped into publishing this novel don’t know her either. I’m going to trust those close to her that she didn’t know Go Set a Watchman still existed and that she’s excited about its discovery and publication. I’m not going to feel guilty about it, nor that I pre-ordered it from Amazon. I’m going to excitedly wait for my copy to arrive this summer, where I will promptly sit on my porch and devour it.

After I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird two or three more times, of course.

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