Like me, perhaps, you woke up this morning to discover that 55 years after she published To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee is coming out with a second novel. Like me, you may also have been leaping out of your chair and thinking what a miracle it is that an 88-year-old woman finally decided to give fiction a second try. Eighty-eight years old! Harper Lee, you rock my world, I thought to myself after the chair hit the floor.
Well, the real story isn’t quite as awesome as that second-blooming-late-in-life tale that I made up for myself. But it is, indeed, worth everyone’s amazement at how sometimes without warning, the God of Stories delivers a treasure to the world. As you may or may not know, Lee only ever wrote one novel. This soon-to-be-published new work, Go Set a Watchman, is actually an old work: it was her first attempt at a novel, and it was about a woman named Jean Louise Finch going back to her hometown to visit her father. Apparently, the editor liked the flashback material so much, he (and I’m assuming it was a he–maybe not, though) encouraged Lee to base a different novel on Jean Louise’s childhood. That story became To Kill a Mockingbird; Jean Louise Finch became Scout, and her father became Atticus Finch, the attorney who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.
It’s hard to say whether or not Go Set a Watchman will be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, what the hell am I saying? Chances are infintesimal that anyone on the planet will believe that this new work–the actual first novel written by Harper Lee–will even approach the greatness of the novel that made it to publication. The Internet will give birth to a bunch of naysayers and reputation-chewers who will whine and complain about why anyone bothered to publish this book in the first place. (Or so I predict, as anyone else might predict given the nature of the Internet.) I’m hoping, though, that the Internet opinion-setters in particular will accept this book for what it is: an experiment, as all novels are; a first shot at creating a story; a chance to see how a brilliant author’s mind works as that mind was captured mid-process.
And who knows? This second novel might tell a good story in its own right. But it doesn’t have to. The mythos that we’ve collectively created around To Kill a Mockingbird, and the way that the book changed our culture, has already made the book valuable to us, no matter how it turns out. So, I guess what I’m saying is, screw you, future Internet trolls! Whatever problems Go Set a Watchman may have (and I’m not saying it won’t, and I’m not saying it’s bad to bring up valid criticisms if and when they’re found), this book will still be important and Harper Lee will still be one of my all-time literary heroes.