Closing The Book On Harper Lee Book Controversy

If the "To Kill A Mockingbird" author told authorities she truly wants her new book published, it's time to take her at her word

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(WTNH)  I’ve written about this topic here several times in the past month.  So it’s only right to close the circle when it comes to the case of “To Kill A Mockingbird” author Harper Lee and the allegations she’d been forced into agreeing to publish another novel.

My stories, like many others, took a dark, speculative view of how the 60-year-old manuscript of “Go Set A Watchman” was found and readied for publication.  It certainly seemed as if the elements were right for a story about how Lee, now 88 and nearly blind and deaf after a stroke, was taken advantage of by people who would reap millions if American literature’s most famous one-hit wonder agreed to publish once again.  At some point, though, what seems from afar like the what the truth might be is superseded by the facts on the ground, so to speak, and I think we’ve reached that point.

That State of Alabama, responding to a request that the deal be investigated as a possible case of financial elder abuse, talked to the Lee at the assisted living facility in Monroeville AL where she lives, as well as a number of friends and caregivers, and came away this week with unambiguous findings: that Lee answered questions about potential financial fraud, and that she assured them she was in favor of publishing the new novel and capable of making that decision for herself.  Investigation closed.

That’s likely to be as much as we ever find out, given Lee’s lifelong penchant for privacy and distaste for the media, which for more than half-a-century have basically wanted to ask her one question: will you ever publish another novel?  Maybe this is her feisty way — and her feistiness is legendary — of finally saying “yes!” to that question, completely on her own terms.  Or maybe not.  Maybe she was just having a lucid day when the investigators interviewed her.

There goes the speculation again.  We all know “To Kill A Mockingbird,” but we really know very little about the woman who wrote it, or why she chose to live her life the way she did after it became a perpetual bestseller that to this day brings Lee millions of dollars a year.  The official investigation is over, and “Go Tell A Watchman” can now be published and read and judged on its merits.  But the mystery of Harper Nelle Lee will endure long after she’s gone, and despite what I wrote at the beginning of this article, this is one circle that’s unlikely to ever completely close.  As reporter David Graham put it perfectly in his story for The Atlantic: “‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ provided a vivid lesson that even when the truth can be established, it doesn’t necessarily lead to justice.  Long before the book has reached shelves, the saga of ‘Go Set A Watchman’ already seems to be teaching how hard it can be to even determine what the truth is.”

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