Don't tell me anything about Go Set A Watchman, the frantically awaited new/old novel by Harper Lee that will be widely released Wednesday. Don't point to articles about it or hint that it reframes characters or speak of either shock or joy. I want the shock or joy for myself, uninflected by you, or the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Atlantic Magazine.
To Kill A Mockingbird was one of two first books I bought with my own money. It was sold at a school book fair. I was eight years old. I wolfed it down, though I didn't understand half of it. I read it many times. I memorized the opening, and the long section where the adult Scout reimagined spring, summer, winter and fall with a Boo Radley putting a blanket on Scout's shoulders when the house burns, though I was confused and thought that the He referred to in that section was Scout's daddy.
Sometime later, I snuck downstairs to watch the film--shown on TV past my bedtime--in the reflection on my parent's bedroom windows. I didn't see all the film--they kept catching me and sending me to bed--but I saw most of it, and was stunned by it as well.
In my adult life, I kept running into children named Scout and Atticus. My son went to school with an Atticus (he hates his name) whose little sister is Harper. In Los Angeles, I took a mommy and me yoga class next to a very elegant woman whose son was named Harper--she said the Lees were family friends. I ached with envy, even as her four-year-old tempted my turbo two-year-old with Thomas trains, removing much chance to either speak or do yoga . (I'm thinking now that this was Gregory Peck's daughter and her son, Harper, though I'm not sure.)
Also, as a writer, I longed to know what had harmed Harper so that she stopped writing anything but essays now and then. I scrounged around until I found those essays. (Check those out, people, about the history of the region or whatever. They are deep, warm and brilliant.) Betty Smith wrote of her challenges after writing A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and how it took her two years and returning from a specially rented room to her cluttered, chaotic apartment before she could write Tomorrow Will Be Better. Was Lee's blockage caused by perfectionism? Was she fearful of airing dirty family laundry? After memorizing parts of To Kill A Mockingbird, with its complex, nuanced understanding and compassionate, poetic narrative voice--and finding those few essays, sporting the same--I had no doubt she could do it, just as I have no doubt this new-old novel is fabulous. There is no way this author would have turned in a manuscript that wasn't publish-ready and brilliant.
And because people have already leaked things to me, I have a very strong feeling that fear of dirty family laundry was the answer and the death of Harper Lee's older sister, Alice, what has sprung Nelle free. Not that I'm accusing Alice Lee of locking her sister down, but A Long Days Journey Into Night and The Glass Menagerie weren't written until the deaths of all characters save the playwrights, while bold Pat Conroy was, for years, persona non gratis after writing The Great Santini and The Prince Of Tides.
At any rate, feel free to speak with me late Tuesday or Wednesday after I have gotten my own reserved copy and joined the Great American Read In of Go Set A Watchman. And Harper Lee, from the bottom of my heart, thank you--for so many things. I hope this late hour I assume vindication gives you joy.