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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Go Set A Watchman, Editorial Envy, Drool, and Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman, for all its fascinating insight into Harper Lee, her father, the development of the story, and visible latent talent, still reads like a very rough draft poured hot onto the page and then shipped off to an editor.

And she bought it.  Tay Hohoff, at Lippencott. Bought it with real money, and then spent hours and hours over two-and-a-half years working with Harper Lee to create a very different novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. In one interview, Hohoff spoke of conversations that lasted six hours, as they argued perspective. Six hours. At at time.

Yes, To Kill A Mockingbird is not the Kumbaya novel most people thought it was. Yes, the world took Atticus Finch as their hero without paying much attention to the nuance of his interactions with race.

But I can't imagine anybody denying that To Kill A Mockingbird is not just beautifully written, but intricately written. It is no longer a series of interlocking stories that more or less comment on a fascinating main action (that ends abruptly.) Its exploration of race and other forms of bigotry is complex and nuanced, particularly for its time. (Remember Boo Radley and kindness towards mental illness? Remember Atticus' empathy-bordering-on-pity for Mayella Ewell, trapped in a brutal, short-lived world, trying to make life better for her younger siblings while longing for more? Remember the vicious, racist addict, Mrs. Dubose, and Atticus' respectful compassion toward her?)  Taken together with a hilarious, honest account of a wayward, creative childhood, To Kill A Mockingbird presents a fully realized vision that also deftly, gracefully--no, brilliantly--manages that most difficult balancing act of presenting a child's point of view from an adult's perspective.

Does that ever happen anymore? Does anybody, drawn to a writer's unique perspective, talent and vision, take in a toddling manuscript and help nurse that wobbly critter until it's a full-flown masterpiece?

Hemingway, anybody?

Sigh, Wipe Drool From Chin and get back to writing.

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